Baghdad: Iraqi Christians faced on Wednesday threats of more violence after al Qaeda said Christians everywhere are "legitimate targets," in the wake of a bloodbath at a Baghdad church the foreign minister called "barbaric".
"All Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them," said a statement by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the local branch of Osama bin Laden`s jihadist network.
The group had already said its gunmen were behind a hostage-taking at a Baghdad cathedral on Sunday that ended in the deaths of 46 worshippers, including two priests.
Baghdad`s Chaldean bishop, Shlimoune Wardouni, said the threat "is very negative; it is very bad for our people (Christians)."
"They could be harmed. It could also force them to leave the country," said Wardouni. "But we must be strong, and ready for everything."
Security was reinforced around Baghdad churches, with more policemen and armoured Humvees stationed outside two churches in Karrada, the same district where the hostage drama had unfolded.
But Christians have not been the only targets in Baghdad in recent days.
On Tuesday night, about a dozen coordinated bombings targeted Shiite districts across the capital, and Health Minister Saleh al-Hasnawi said 64 people were killed and 360 wounded.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called the attack on the church a "barbaric act."
And he blamed Tuesday`s violence on the continuing failure of Iraq`s politicians to form a government after inconclusive March 7 elections.
"The attacks and explosions yesterday are due to the constitutional and political vacuum and the delay in the formation of the government, which gave the terrorists the opportunity to attack civilians," he said.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for Tuesday`s carnage, but the bombings bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda, whose militants have been waging a war against US forces and Iraq`s weak government.