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apparently coordinated bomb attacks against churches over the weekend, a major religious rights group said Tuesday, January 31.

"Westerners should not give wild statements [as] everyone can attack us [in response]," Open Doors quoted Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako from the northern town of Kirkuk as saying. 

The headquarters of Open Doors in Ermelo, the Netherlands, said its investigators established that "many" Iraqi Christians suspect that the attacks were in response to cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that were published in Danish newspapers in September.

The cartoons received again attention after Libya withdrew its ambassador from Denmark to protest the perceived lack government action against the newspaper. did not undertake. “We condemn the lack of respect for religious symbols and persons," said Sako Monday at a funeral service for 13-year Fadi Raad Elias who died Sunday, January 29, when a car bomb exploded on his way to chuch.

MUSLIMS KILLED

Besides Elias an Islamic married couple living near a church in Kirkuk also died, Open Doors said. In Baghdad bombs exploded near at least two churches and the Vatican Embassy. No group claimed responsibility for the bombings, which occurred within a half hour in Baghdad and in Kirkuk, 288 kilometers (180 miles) to the north.

Suspicion fell on Islamic militants groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq - led by Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - that have been responsible for massive car bombings and suicide attacks.

Besides those three killed, over 20 people were injured, investigators said. Open Doors said it fears  Iraqi Christians will massively flee the region because of the violence. In the aftermath of previous attacks tens of thousand of Christians fled to Jordan and other countries, BosNewsLife monitored.

FLEEING CHRISTIANS

“There is a big chance that Christians will flee to the Kurdish part of Iraq,” said Open Doors spokesman Jeno Sebok. He added that local authorities already prepared 30 villages to accomodate Christians and other refugees. “However there could be also a big temptation [for Christians] to go abroad,” Sebok added.

Western Christians in Iraq are also targeted by Islamic militants. Four Christian peace activists,  Briton Norman Kember, American Tom Fox and Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, have been held as hostages since November 26 by the previously unknown Swords of Truth group.

It threatened to kill the hostages by December 10 unless Iraqi prisoners were released, but the deadline was then extended by two days and expired on December 12. There had been no news about there situation till Saturday January 28 when Arabic television news channel aired a new videotape in which militants were giving a "last chance" for US and Iraqi authorities to "release all Iraqi prisoners” in return of freeing the hostages.

AMERICAN JOURNALISTS

Aljazeera also aired videotape on Monday, January 29, from an Iraqi militant group showing US hostage Jill Carroll, an American journalist who was on an assignment for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, and said she appealed for fellow Americans to press for the release of Iraqi women held by coalition forces. 

Carroll, wearing a headscarf, was seen crying in the grainy footage that carried a January 28 date stamp and a logo showing the name of the Revenge Brigades militant group.

Other journalists, ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were wounded by a roadside bomb while embedded with Iraqi and US troops on Sunday, January 29. They were reportedly in a serious but stable condition at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. (Eric Leijenaar from the Dutch evangelical newspaper Uitdaging (Challenge) contributed to this report. With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and reports from Iraq). 

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