August 2, BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP)--Assailants launched the first major attack on Iraq's minority Christians since the insurgency began, triggering a coordinated series of explosions outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul that killed 11 people and injured more than 50.
Authorities disarmed a sixth bomb outside a Baghdad church on Sunday, as fears grew in Iraq's 750,000-member Christian minority that they might be targeted as suspected collaborators with American forces amid a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
"What are the Muslims doing? Does this mean that they want us out?" Brother Louis, a deacon at Our Lady of Salvation, asked as he cried outside the damaged Assyrian Catholic church.
Separate violence beginning the night before killed 24 people, including an American soldier, and wounded dozens more. The toll included a suicide car bombing outside a Mosul police station that killed five people and wounded 53, and clashes in Fallujah between U.S. troops and insurgents that killed 12 Iraqis and wounded 39 others.
The wave of explosions at Christian churches at least four of them car bombings began after 6 p.m. as parishioners gathered inside their neighborhood churches for services. The blasts shattered stained-glass windows and sent churchgoers screaming into the streets.
The explosions came just minutes apart and hit four churches in Baghdad two in Karada, one in the Dora neighborhood and one in New Baghdad. A fifth church was hit in Mosul, about 220 miles north of the capital. The attacks did not appear to be suicide bombings, U.S. military and Iraqi officials said.
The Baghdad church attacks killed 10 people and injured more than 40 others, according to a U.S. military statement. The Mosul blast killed one person and injured 11 others, police Maj. Fawaz Fanaan said.
''This (attack) isn't against Muslims or Christians, this is against Iraq,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told The Associated Press.
The Vatican called the attacks ''terrible and worrisome,'' said spokesman Rev. Ciro Benedettini.
Muslim clerics condemned the violence and offered condolences to the Christian community.
''This is a cowardly act and targets all Iraqis,'' Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Al-Jazeera television.
The attacks on the churches signaled a change in tactics for insurgents, who have focused many previous attacks on U.S. forces, Iraqi officials and police in a drive to push coalition forces from the country, weaken the interim government and hamper reconstruction efforts.
To escape the chaos here, many of Iraq's Christians have gone to neighboring Jordan and Syria to wait for the security situation to improve.
Many who remained watched with fear as Islamic fundamentalism, long repressed under Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, thrived. Islamic radicals have warned Christians running liquor stores to shut down their businesses and have turned their sights on fashion stores and beauty salons.
But the church attacks Sunday went far beyond those threats.
The first blast in Karada hit an Armenian church after 6 p.m., just 15 minutes into the evening service, witnesses said. The second blast a few minutes later hit the Roman Catholic church about 500 yards away.
''I saw injured women and children and men, the church's glass shattered everywhere,'' said Juliette Agob, who was inside the Armenian church during the first explosion.
In the Mosul attack, insurgents parked a white Toyota Supra outside a Catholic church, launched a rocket toward the building and then detonated the car bomb about 7 p.m., the U.S. military said in a statement.
The attack destroyed five cars and badly damaged a church office, but did little damage to the church itself, the military said.
Earlier in Mosul, a white sport utility vehicle sped toward barriers at the Summar police station and a police guard opened fire, killing the driver, the police and U.S. military said.
The vehicle crashed into the concrete barriers around the station and exploded, killing five people, including three police officers, said AbdelAzil Hafoudi, an official at al-Salam hospital. He said 53 people were wounded.
Also, a roadside bombing near the town of Samarra hit a passing patrol, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding one other, the military said.
At least 911 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003.
In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded two others, said Fawad Allah, an officer at Karada police station.
Another roadside bomb, along a southern Baghdad highway, killed one man Sunday and wounded two others, said police Lt. Col. Assad Ibrahim Hameed.
A drive-by shooting north of Baghdad killed three police officers and wounded three others.
Also Sunday, a Lebanese businessman taken hostage was released, a day after he was snatched by gunmen outside Baghdad, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid for Vladimir Damaa's release. The fate of another Lebanese businessman, Antoine Antoun, abducted at the same time, was not known.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Sunday that any Muslim and Arab forces sent to Iraq must replace coalition troops there.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has urged Arab and Muslim nations to send troops.