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Al-Qaida group in Iraq threatens attacks on Christians in Egypt

Iraqi security forces stand guard at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church in Baghdad on Wednesday. Many Iraqis stayed off the streets after a series of bombings in the past three days.

Associated Press

Iraqi security forces stand guard at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church in Baghdad on Wednesday. Many Iraqis stayed off the streets after a series of bombings in the past three days.

BAGHDAD — Security in the Iraqi capital was heightened and city streets were almost empty Wednesday as many Iraqis stayed home after a series of bombings sparked fears that security forces are overwhelmed by the violence.

The death toll in a series of attacks mainly targeting Shiites in Baghdad rose to 91, with more than 250 wounded, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials. At least 58 people, most of them attending Mass, were killed and 75 wounded after a team of gunmen stormed the Catholic Our Lady of Salvation and Iraqi special forces attempted a rescue Sunday.

The attacks put pressure on squabbling political leaders to form a government and restore public trust almost eight months after Iraqis voted in national elections. Parliament, ordered by Iraq's top court to get back to work, is to reconvene Monday.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq group threatened more attacks on Christians, linking the warning to claims that Egypt's Coptic Church is holding women captive for converting to Islam.

The extremist group, which claimed responsibility for Sunday's assault on the church in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, said its deadline for Egypt's Copts to release the women had expired and its fighters would attack Christians wherever they can be reached.

"We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood," the insurgent group said in a statement posted late Tuesday on militant websites.

The Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq and other allied Sunni insurgent factions.

The group specifically mentioned two Egyptian women married to Coptic priests it says are being held against their will. The church denies the allegation.

Over the past few years in Egypt, arguments over such alleged conversions have exacerbated Muslim-Christian tensions already high over issues like the construction of new churches. The two communities generally live in peace, though clashes have taken place.

Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.

Al-Qaida group in Iraq threatens attacks on Christians in Egypt 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 11:17pm]

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