BAGHDAD, (AFP) – Gunmen have taken worshippers hostage in a Baghdad church where they fled on Sunday after shooting dead two guards at the Iraqi capital’s stock exchange, a bishop and security officials said.
“What we know is that a number of worshippers and two priests are being held hostage at the church by terrorists,” said Shlimoune Wardouni, the Chaldean bishop of Baghdad.
“They are demanding the release of terrorists held in Iraq and Egypt,” he told AFP.
Two guards at the stock exchange were killed in clashes with the gunmen trying to battle their way into the building earlier on Sunday, an interior ministry official said.
“Four gunmen tried to force their way into the Baghdad stock exchange. Clashes erupted when the guards tried to stop them, and two guards were killed,” the official said.
He said the attackers detonated a bomb in a car parked close wounding four civilians and escaped, fleeing to the Sayidat al-Nejat church, which was among six targeted by deadly car bombings on August 1, 2004.
An AFP reporter said police and soldiers threw a security cordon around the area and were stopping cars from entering.
Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said police had surrounded the church.
Residents of the Karrada district where the drama unfolded said they heard a large explosion and gunfire.
Violence has abated in Iraq since its peak in 2006-2007, but deadly bombings, gunfights and kidnappings are still routine.