Middle East

Twelve arrested over deadly Baghdad church siege

Our Lady of Salvation church in central Baghdad (file photo)
Image caption More than 50 people died after militants took over the church

Twelve suspected militants have been arrested in connection with a deadly church siege in Baghdad last month, Iraq's interior minister says.

Jawad Bolani said the arrests were made in raids over recent days and described them as a blow to al-Qaeda.

More than 50 people were killed when militants took over the Our Lady of Salvation church on 31 October.

The gunmen seized the Catholic church during Sunday Mass, demanding the release of al-Qaeda prisoners.

It ended only when security forces stormed the church, after an hours-long stand-off. About 60 people were injured.

The suspects are said to include Huthaifa al-Batawi, the Baghdad chief of the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni militant umbrella group to which al-Qaeda in Iraq belongs, according to AFP news agency.

The group has said it carried out the attack.

Senior Islamic State of Iraq leader Ammar al-Najadi was also among those detained, AFP said.

'Acted on a tip'

Police captured the group in raids in the upscale west Baghdad neighbourhood of Mansur and on Palestine street, in the capital's east.

An intelligence official responsible for monitoring al-Qaeda in Iraq told AP that security forces acted on a tip to make the first arrest, and then managed to track down the whole group.

He believes that more people were arrested in the raids, putting the number at 17.

Although churches in Iraq have faced a number of attacks in recent years, the incident was the first which involved a prolonged hostage situation.

Christians - many from ancient denominations - have been leaving Iraq in droves since the US-led invasion in 2003, and about 600,000 remain.