Iraqis injured in church attack airlifted to Rome

Rome, Italy - Twenty-six Iraqis who were injured in a militant attack on one of Baghdad's main Catholic churches arrived in Rome for treatment Friday, airlifted by the Italian military at the request of the Vatican.

Looking a bit dazed, the injured walked or were carried out of a C-130 plane on stretchers at Rome's Pratica di Mare military base, where buses waited to transport them to a hospital. One had his head bandaged, another had her arm in a sling.

"Some still have the bullets inside them, some are deaf from the explosions, some are under shock," Massimo Bellelli, the Foreign Ministry official overseeing the operation, said from the tarmac. "We want to give them treatment in a serene place."

Sixty-eight people were killed when militants stormed the Our Lady of Salvation Church on Oct. 31 during Sunday Mass. The militants shot congregants, held others hostage, then set off bombs when Iraqi forces came to the rescue.

The Vatican denounced the attack and others that have targeted Iraq's besieged Christian community. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, asked Italy's Foreign Ministry to intervene with a humanitarian airlift to bring some of the injured to Rome for treatment, the ministry said.

The injured, accompanied by 21 family members, were taken to Rome's Gemelli hospital, where they will receive treatment for both their physical and psychological wounds, Bellelli said.

"Christians are living in a difficult situation at this time," he told reporters. "They don't want to leave the country; we don't want them to leave the country. It's the cradle of Christianity."

He said it wasn't clear what, if any, asylum requests might emerge from the airlift, but that the ministry aimed to provide the injured with the medical treatment they need so they can eventually be returned to Iraq and their families.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on his Facebook page that Italy's welcome of the injured was a sign to Iraqi Christians that they haven't been forgotten.

"We can give these people the possibility of mitigating the terrible experiences and images of death that they lived through purely because they were professing their faith," he said.