BAGHDAD, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- The United States Monday condemned an armed attack on a Christian church in Baghdad that left at least 58 people dead.
"The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage-taking and violence by terrorists linked to al-Qaida in Iraq that occurred Sunday in Baghdad killing so many innocent Iraqis," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to the people of Iraq who have suffered so much from these attacks. We offer sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and to all the people of Iraq who are targeted by these cowardly acts of terrorism.
"We know the overwhelming majority of Iraqis from all its communities reject violence and we stand with them as we work together to combat terrorism and protect the people of our two nations."
The New York Times noted the bloody attack at Our Lady of Salvation Church, a Syrian Catholic congregation, was the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since the war began in 2003.
"They seemed insane," Ban Abdullah, a 50-year-old survivor, said of the attackers.
"They came to kill Iraq, not Iraqis," one survivor, Bassam Sami, told the Times. "They came to kill the spirit of Iraq. They came to kill the reason to live, every dream that you want to make true."
Two priests were among those killed but another who survived, the Rev. Meyassr al-Qasboutros, said the attack would not chase church members from Iraq.
"We must die here," al-Qasboutros said. "We can't leave this country."
It remained unclear how many hostages were killed by the attackers immediately after the church was taken over and how many died as gunmen detonated suicide vests as Iraqi security forces stormed the building.
Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi had said most of the hostages were killed or wounded when the gunmen set off at least two suicide vests as they captured the church and took nearly 100 hostages.
Besides those killed, officials said 41 hostages and 15 security force members were injured.
An Interior Ministry official said police arrested eight gunmen thought to have ties to the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant organization linked to al-Qaida in Mesopotamia.
Hussain Nahidh, a police officer who saw the interior of the church, told the Times: "It's a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible."
Iraqi security forces blockaded church entrances Monday to keep gawkers out. Officials said the floor was still smeared with blood and pieces of flesh had to be removed.
The U.S. military called the takeover by the anti-terrorist forces a success.
"Last night's operation by the (Iraqi security forces) is proof of their competency to provide professional security to the citizens of Iraq," the military said in a statement.
Survivors told media outlets they were about to begin Sunday evening services when the gunmen rushed into the church.
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