Syria: Three dead in suicide attack that 'targeted Christian leader'

A suicide bomber on Sunday killed three people in an attack thought to have targeted the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II during a meeting at the Vatican last June.Reuters

The assailant, who according to some sources was disguised as a priest, was reportedly stopped at a security checkpoint outside a hall in Qamishly where an event to celebrate a new monument dedicated to the 1915 Assyrian genocide was being held.

Patriarch Ignatius presided over the event, which was also attended by His Grace Mar Afram Athneil of the Assyrian Church of the East.

The suicide bomber detonated his bomb when he was questioned by Sutoro security officials, killing himself and three guards, and wounding five others.

The Sutoro Police is an Assyrian Christian militia operating in North-East Syria.

One guard told AFP: "The suicide attacker tried to enter the hall where people were gathered but was stopped by local security forces, and he detonated himself among them".

Another said the attacker "detonated himself near our checkpoint after he couldn't reach his real target, Patriarch Ignatius".

The incident was the fourth terrorist attack in Wusta, a predominantly Assyrian and Armenian neighbourhood in Qamishly. According to campaign group A Demand For Action (ADFA), such attacks are seen "as a way to force the remaining Christians in Qamishly, a city built by them, to flee."

Patriarch Aphrem said following the attack: "I would like to see Christians remaining here in their homeland of their ancestors.

"The blood of our martyrs has been mixed with the soil of this land, Bethnahrin for many centuries."

ADFA executive director Steve Oshana said violent incidents have become "too common and are a reminder of the dangers our people face on a daily basis.

"When a place like Qamishly, which in many ways represents the very soul of our existence in our ancestral homeland, comes under attack it underscores the need for us to support our local security forces.

"We made a pledge from the beginning to support any of our people who pick up weapons and risk their lives in defence of our homeland, and it is a pledge that is renewed with each martyr whose young life we deliver to their final resting place."