IRAQ: 11th Anniversary of the bloody jihadist siege on Syriac Church of Sayidat al-Nejat in Baghdad

BAGHDAD – On the evening of October 31, 2010, suicide jihadists from then al-Qaida affiliate Islamic State entered the Syriac Catholic Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral in Baghdad. Some hundred Syriac faithful were present inside the Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral to celebrate Sunday evening mass. The Yemeni and Egyptian suicide jihadists had come to kill and earn their place in the afterlife.

The siege left dozens of Syriac faithful and two priests dead. Seven members of the Iraqi security forces were also killed later that evening when they stormed the cathedral to free the hostages. It caused some of the jihadists to detonate their bomb vests and sow death and destruction. Days later Islamic jihadists attacked and bombed Syriac homes and neighborhoods across Baghdad.

One month after the attack, Huthaifa al-Batawi, alleged mastermind of the attack, was arrested along with 11 other people. In May 2011, al-Batawi and 10 other jihadists were killed by an Iraqi SWAT team while attempting to escape. On August 2, 2011, 3 people were sentenced to death and 1 person was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the massacre.

There had been previous attacks and bombings of churches, including on the same Syriac Catholic Sayidat al-Nejat Cathedral in 2004. The October 31 suicide attack in 2010 however, was the most brutal and deadly attack on Syriacs since the fall of the dictatorial Ba’ath regime in 2003. It awakened the Syriac people to the new reality in Iraq. Much of the still sizable Syriac community of Baghdad, decided to move north to the Nineveh Plain and the Kurdish Region in Iraq. Many others chose to leave their ancient homeland of Iraq and seek safety in the West.

They were the “lucky” ones. In the years that followed, terrorist organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would commit much worse crimes against humanity. Islamic State caused the displacement of tens and tens of thousands of Syriacs, Yazidi’s, and others when the Islamic extremists captured Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Many Syriacs, Yazidis and people from other communities are still living in IDP-camps or have emigrated to the West. Islamic State destroyed, killed, kidnapped, enslaved, and committed genocide against Yazidis and Syriacs.

The history of the Syriac people in Iraq over the last two decades is marked by displacement, bloodshed, and emigration. The Syriac people have been uprooted from their traditional cities, villages, farmlands, and Mesopotamian heartland. This land between the two fertile rivers was home to their civilizations for thousands of years… but that could soon become history.