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"A bright flash lit the dimmed church'

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Editor's note: The reporter who wrote this story was praying at the Notre Dame De La Delivrance when the bomb that killed nine people exploded.

The Sunday Mass was drawing to a close. Father Antoine Sfeir was at the altar and worshipers were lining up to take Communion.

Suddenly, a bright flash lit the dimmed church and a deafening bang shattered the serenity of worship at Notre Dame De La Delivrance.

I felt unsteady. A painful buzz was splitting my ears, and I fell helplessly to my knees.

It took a few moments, but I regained my senses and got back on my feet _ to witness the horror where there once was peace.

Dead bodies lay on carpeted floors stained red by blood. People screamed hysterically and unintelligibly. Others coughed and gasped as smoke and the gunpowder stink of cordite filled the church.

Icons had fallen off walls and benches were broken to pieces. Pages from shredded Bibles and prayer books fluttered through the hall.

From a pew close to the back of the church, I could not see the priest by the altar.

I looked again and saw him on the floor.

Later, I learned he had been wounded.

An icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus hung askew near the altar, and a vase of lilies lay flipped, but unbroken, on the floor.

People began rushing out through the door at the back of the church, and I joined the stampede, maneuvering through pools of blood, shredded pews and shards of glass.

Pieces of clothing and shoes were strewn in the debris.

Soon after, relief teams ferried blood-covered and charred bodies into ambulances. Weeping crowds began gathering outside as news of the blast spread and people came looking for their loved ones.

A security officer suddenly shouted that another bomb was discovered and people began running in all directions. Rescuers rushed out of the church.

Sappers (bomb squad personnel) ran in, and later said they defused another bomb that had been concealed inside the organ.

The first bomb blew off the lid of the organ, revealing four mortar shells connected to a detonator _ a bomb twice the size of the one that exploded and killed nine people, including a 4-year-old girl, and wounded 60.