3 Nov 2010

Iraq defends action to end hostage crisis

10:16 am on 3 November 2010

The government of Iraq says it had no choice but to take military action to end a hostage crisis in Baghdad.

Fifty-two hostages and police officers died when police stormed a Catholic church where worshippers were being held by gunmen on Sunday.

Human rights minister Wijdan Mikhail says she regrets the deaths and urged the security forces to be better prepared for such incidents.

The government says up to six of the gunmen were killed and more than 50 people wounded.

Pope Benedict XVI has condemned the attack. He said two priests died in the siege.

The gunmen had reportedly demanded the release of jailed al Qaeda fighters and Muslim women they insisted were being held prisoner by the Coptic Church in Egypt.

About 100 people were inside Our Lady of Salvation for an evening mass when they were taken hostage.

The BBC reports many churches have been bombed in recent years. Christians - many from ancient denominations - have been leaving Iraq in droves since 2003. About 600,000 remain.