The Iraqi federal police and Army have been deployed outside churches during Sunday mass since a series of coordinated attacks on churches more than two years ago. On Sunday though, witnesses said there were no military or police vehicles deployed outside the church during the service.
Nearby residents described terrifying scenes unfolding into the night. Rajaa, a school teacher who did not want her last name used, says from the first floor window she could see four men in military uniforms get out of a black SUV and shoot at the stock exchange guards before jumping the wall into the church.
Three other gunmen in an ordinary car pulled up, she says.
“As soon as they jumped over the wall they detonated their car. Then all we could hear were shots and screams from inside the church,” she says. Authorities said two stock exchange guards and four passersby were killed in the initial attack.
The gunmen were believed to have almost immediately shot one of the priests celebrating mass as well as several of the parishioners. An Iraqi television station said it had received a call from the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, claiming responsibility for the attack and saying they were demanding the release of prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.
Most of the casualties though were believed to have resulted when the gunmen detonated two suicide vests after Iraqi commandos blew off the doors and stormed the building.
"The men who carried out the attack were very organized – the way they entered … how well prepared and armed with machine guns, explosive belts, and everything they could need…. How they quickly closed the doors and shut in the faithful. Then the security forces came and … It was a real tragedy – so many lives lost ..." says Monsignor Kasha.