Europe

Iraqi church attack wounded in France for treatment

Wounded Iraqi Christians arriving in Paris (8 Nov 2010)
Image caption The Iraqis being treated in France were the most seriously injured

A group of Iraqi Christians, wounded in an attack on a church in Baghdad, have arrived in Paris for medical treatment.

More than 50 people were killed when militants stormed the Our Lady of Salvation church on 31 October.

Thirty-four Christians and one Muslim security guard who suffered grenade and bullet wounds have now been taken to hospitals around Paris.

They are being given six months' asylum but may be allowed to stay permanently.

The gunmen seized the church during Sunday Mass, demanding the release of al-Qaeda prisoners.

When Iraqi security forces later stormed the building, reports said that the mililtants threw grenades and detonated explosive suicide vests.

More than 40 worshippers were among the dead, as well as two priests and seven security personnel.

'Tradition of asylum'

Among those arriving at Orly airport were a pregnant woman and a child aged 11. The oldest victim was 76.

They were welcomed by France's Immigration Minister Eric Besson who said it fitted France's "tradition of asylum" to take them in.

Mr Besson said he had seen people in obvious pain.

"One young lady told me that her young mother was holding her young children in her arms when those children were shot and died in her arms," he said.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says that France wants to extend solidarity, not only to Iraqi Christians, but to all Christian minorities in the Muslim World.

But the idea has attracted criticism from those who warn it will contribute to a new Iraqi exodus among an already dwindling community.

There were nearly one million Christians in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003.

That number has now dropped to about 400,000. A string of bomb attacks on churches has prompted many to flee - most of them to neighbouring countries.

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