BAGHDAD (AP) – A bomb killed one person and damaged a historic church north of Baghdad on Wednesday, one day ahead of Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on Iraq’s Christian minority.
The bomb was hidden in a handcart near the Mar Toma Church, also known as Church of St. Thomas, in the city of Mosul, a police officer said. It is one of Mosul’s older churches, dating to A.D. 770.
The officer said one passer-by was killed and five others were injured in the explosion. A hospital official confirmed the casualties.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.
The extent of the damage to the church was not immediately clear. The blast occurred in an area where streets have been closed to cars and trucks to protect Mosul’s dwindling Christian population.
Iraqi defense officials warned earlier in the week that intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, leading the government to step up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods.
Most of the increased security will be in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, said Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.
Christians have frequently been targeted since turmoil swept the country following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, although the attacks have ebbed with an overall drop in violence.
Churches, priests and businesses have been attacked by militants who denounce Christians as pro-American “crusaders.” The body of Paulos Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in March 2008 following his abduction by gunmen after a Mass.