Christians Become Terror Targets in Iraq

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 2, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: Terrorists in Iraq are going after the country's Christians. They bombed five churches yesterday in a series of coordinated attacks.

Heather Nauert is here with more on Iraq's Christian minority and why it's being targeted.


Well, recent attacks in Iraq killing Muslims are now causing insurgents so to lose support in the Arab world, so now these guys are going after new targets: mainly Iraq's Christian churches and Iraq's 800,000-strong Christian community.

Sunday's bombings were the first time that Christians have been directly targeted since the war began. Lorenzo Vidino joins me from Washington. And that's the big question, Lorenzo: why are Christians now being targeted in Iraq?

LORENZO VIDINO, THE INVESTIGATIVE PROJECT: Well, we know the man behind these attacks is Abu Musab al-Zarq (search)awi: the leader of this Al Qaeda-affiliated group has created havoc in Iraq over the last year. Apparently, he tried to create an inter-religious war with other Muslims. He's a Sunni; he tried to create a religious war with the Shiite (search) and with the Kurds (search). That didn't work.

Shiite and Sunnis are living side-by-side peacefully. He's probably now attacking Christians because they're a small minority and what he's trying to do is create an inter-religious war and trying to pit up Muslims against Christians.

NAUERT: He's, of course, very ambitious, as are all of these terrorists. What do the terrorists say about trying, or wanting to start sort of, a worldwide war between Christians and Arabs? Isn't that one of their goals?

VIDINO: Well, first of all, we have to say not all Arabs are Muslims. Some Arabs are Christians.

NAUERT: Right.

VIDINO: Well, that's part of the larger ideology, but some of the most radical Islamists do have — you are absolutely right. At the same time, we know the Zarqawi Tribe, first of all, to strike at the closest targets. Basically, what he wants is to attack American forces. He is planning to go after Shiites and Kurds, but mostly to create a civil war and a kind of scenario that would be a nightmare for Americans. As I said, that didn't work, so that's why he's going after Christians.

Of course, the ideology that supports Zarqawi — the ideology that he closely follows, Wahabbism, which is the radical strain of Islam, is completely anti-Christian, is completely against every other religion except Islam. That's their own interpretation of Islam. Therefore, Jews and Christians are considered very big enemies.

NAUERT: What would you classify this as: a political or more of a religious goal that he has? Because so often, you have these terrorists claim that they care about religion, but really don't at all, and they'd rather have political goals, like trying to attack Christians so that they can perhaps, raise money in the Arab world? What do you think of that?

VIDINO: Yes. I would say there's a religious motivation, but at the same time, there's a big political motivation. Probably Zarqawi and his group have realized that they were losing a lot of support in the Arab street by attacking other Muslims. Not all Muslims agree — and I'm talking about radical Muslims — agree about attacking other Muslims, even if they are Shiite.

Probably that's one of the reasons why he decided to change. Also, you mentioned financial reasons. Zarqawi and his groups basically are financed by wealthy donors in the Arab world. Not all these donors agree in killing other Muslims, while more people agree in killing Christians, killing what are considered the infidels; therefore no Muslims.

NAUERT: So, is this going to help Zarqawi's fundraising efforts, do you think?

VIDINO: I don't know, because at the same time — it looks like some kind of a sign of desperation by Zarqawi. The fact that he has not achieved his other goals, and now he's going after the last target, and Christian minority doesn't pose a threat. Islam has been considered really, the state religion in the Constitution. It looks like a sign of desperation from Zarqawi, like he's...

NAUERT: Lorenzo, we're going to have to leave it there.

Thanks a lot. Glad to hear they're in desperation.

VIDINO: It was my pleasure.

NAPOLITANO: Thanks, Heather.

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