Gunmen Kill 2 Christians in Northern Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen burst into a home in northern Iraq and killed two Christian men as they sat in their living room, continuing a string of attacks again spreading fear through the dwindling religious minority.

In a second strike in the city of Mosul on Monday night, assailants bombed another house belonging to a Christian family, wounding a bystander, police and medical officials said Tuesday.

Iraq's Christians are still reeling from an attack last month in which militants stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad during a Sunday Mass. Sixty-eight people were killed in the four-hour siege.
Days later, militants attacked houses of Christians across Baghdad, killing five people. An Al Qaedafront group claimed responsibility for both of those attacks, declaring its resolve to strike Christians wherever they can be found.

The officials gave details on the violence in Mosul on condition that they not be identified because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.

Hundreds of Christian families have fled Mosul since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the sectarian violence that followed. Catholic officials estimate that 1 million Christians nationwide have fled the country.

Mosul is Iraq's third largest city. Christians have lived there for 1,800 years, and a number of centuries-old churches and monasteries still stand in the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Mosul was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents and Al Qaedamilitants in the past, and Christians there have been abducted and killed in a targeted campaign since 2007.

Fayez al-Shamani, a priest in the Mar Afram Syrian Orthodox church in Mosul, said Christians in the city live in fear despite an increased police presence around churches.

"Security officials gave us assurances, but we know they cannot put a police car near every Christian house in the city," al-Shamani said in a phone interview Tuesday. "The two people killed were only guilty of being Christians."

The number of Arab Christians has plummeted across the Middle East in recent years as many move to the West. The exodus has been particularly stark in Iraq, where Christians historically made up a large portion of the country's middle class and included doctors, engineers, intellectuals and civil servants.