Wounded survivors of a bus blast that targeted Christian students in Iraq have had an emotional meeting with their bishops in which they begged for action to bring their attackers to justice.
The delegation of 300 students – many of them with wounds, especially to the face – wept as they described the explosions on Sunday (May 2nd) involving 18 buses carrying 1,300 university students from the Christian town of Qaraqosh to the city of Mosul.
Latest reports say that, in addition to the one man who died, as many as 188 were injured – 24 seriously – with several of them now fighting for their life. One is reported to be in a vegetative state.
In the meeting on Thursday, May 6th, with seven bishops, both Catholic and Orthodox, the students appealed for a public investigation into the attacks which took place between two checkpoints en route to Mosul, where they go to university.
In their discussion with the prelates, who included a Chaldean-rite bishop as well as others from the Armenian, Syrian Orthodox and Catholic Church, the students went on to plead that a college be set up in Qaraqosh.
The plan is seen as crucial to help ensure the safety of students who until now have risked the continuing violence in Mosul.
The city has become a focal point for anti-Christian killings, abductions and other terrorist activity.
In a joint statement, the bishops added their own voice to calls for the government to open a university in Qaraqosh for up to 2,000 students in the area.
The bishops stress the need to act quickly to ensure the students do not miss out on training and upcoming exams, especially during the remainder of this academic year.
The statement, issued after yesterday’s bishops’ meeting in Qaraqosh, also appeals for a new government to be formed, thereby ending the political impasse following an indecisive result in the March 7th general elections.
In their statement, the bishops say that the lack of government was being exploited by extremists and other terrorists.
Speaking after the meetings which he attended, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said, “When we saw the students, we were very moved. They were so very shocked and felt discouraged.”
“Many were injured – with bandages on their face and some over their eyes. There was crying and a lot of sadness.”
“One student told us, it is a miracle that only one person is dead.”
The archbishop added, “They felt there was nobody able to speak up for them. It is our duty as Church leaders to be their voice, to protect them.”
“The local churches should come together and stand together and use their impact and resources to help people.”
Underlining the central message of the bishops’ statement, Archbishop Sako said, “Above all what we want to say is: stop the attacks against innocent people.”
“The people who have done this attack are not just trying to destroy the future of our Christian people but are trying to destroy the future of our whole country.”
He added, “We are urging that a new government be formed as soon as possible. A power vacuum can only bring more bad consequences for the country and its security.”
The statement goes on to call on Kurds and Arabs in Nineveh province, outside Mosul, to dialogue to find ways to work together and protect the people – especially Christians.
The bishops also go on to thank the hospital staff and authorities both in Erbil, northern Iraq, where many of the injured were treated, and also those involved in enabling the most seriously wounded to go to Turkey for more serious hospital care.
Archbishop Georges Casmoussa, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, now based in Qaraqosh, has led calls for UN intervention to step up protection of Christians.
However, Archbishop Sako explained that the bishops involved in yesterday’s meetings have also urged the local authorities to act directly to protect the citizens rather than have foreign involvement in internal Iraqi issues.