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Iraq Latest: At Least 52 Killed in Attack on Catholic Church (Al Jazeera)

Al Jazeera summarises:

An al-Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Catholic church in the Iraqi capital, which resulted in the deaths of 52 people, including 25 hostages.

Attackers stormed the Our Lady of Salvation church in the Karrada neighbourhood of central Baghdad on Sunday night, taking more than 100 people hostage. The standoff was ended after police stormed the church two hours later.

At least seven members of the security forces and five gunmen were amongst those killed.

"Right from the very beginning their phone calls were fully intercepted and we strongly believe there were non-Iraqi people among the group. We will investigate their nationalities," Abdul Qader al-Obeidi, the Iraqi defence minister, said.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a group which is linked to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.  The attackers were demanding the release of female prisoners from Iraqi and Egyptian jails, Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker reported.

Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, a Baghdad security spokesman, told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that the operation "has finished successfully".

Sunday's attack began with at least one loud explosion followed by bursts of gunfire. Streets around the church were quickly cordoned off.

Earlier the assailants, wearing suicide vests, killed two guards who tried to stop them from raiding the stock exchange building.

After battling security forces at the stock exchange, the men fled to the nearby church, where they held the building's construction and cleaning crew hostage inside.

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