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Al-Qaida: Attacks Coming
By Sinan Salaheddin

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Al-Qaida's front group in Iraq has threatened more attacks on Christians after a siege on a Baghdad church that left 58 people dead.

The militants linked their warning to claims that Egypt's Coptic Church is holding women captive because they converted to Islam.

The Islamic State of Iraq, which has claimed responsibility for Sunday's assault on a Catholic church during mass in downtown Baghdad, said its deadline for Egypt's Copts to release the women had expired and its fighters would attack Christians wherever they can be reached.

"We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood," the insurgent group said in a statement posted late Tuesday on militant Web sites.

The Islamic State of Iraq is an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq and other allied Sunni insurgent factions. The group also demanded the release of al-Qaida-linked prisoners held in Iraq.

It is unclear why the group seized on the conversion disputes between Egypt's Muslims and its minority Christians, although the issue has become a rallying point for hard-line Islamists in Egypt.

The group said it had given the Coptic Church 48 hours to release the women it says had converted to Islam. The group specifically mentioned two Egyptian women married to Coptic priests it says are being held against their will. The church denies the allegation. Some say they believe the women converted to Islam to leave their husbands because divorce is banned by the church.

During the past few years in Egypt, arguments over these kinds of alleged conversions have exacerbated Muslim-Christian tensions already high over issues such as the construction of new churches.

The Baghdad church siege was the deadliest ever recorded against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as members of the community have fled to other countries.

Meanwhile, the death toll in a series of attacks mainly targeting Shi'ites in Baghdad rose to 91, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Iraqi government TV aired footage Wednesday of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visiting victims of the blasts in hospitals. The visits were a first for al-Maliki, who has been struggling to keep his job since his Shi'ite-dominated alliance was narrowly defeated by the Sunni-backed bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in the March 7 election.

Neither bloc won an outright majority, setting up a fight for allies that has left the government in a stalemate.


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