BAGHDAD: April 5, 2008. (AFP) - Gunmen shot dead an Assyrian Orthodox priest near his house in central Baghdad on Saturday while a bomb on a bus killed three people amid a surge in violence in the Iraqi capital.
Iraqi security officials said Youssef Adel, a priest with Saint Peter`s Church, was killed by gunmen travelling in a car around noon (0900 GMT).
A medical official said Adel`s body had been brought to Ibn Nafis hospital in central Baghdad.
The Assyrian church has maintained its independence since the 5th century when it broke away from the rest of the Christian communion. Some of its followers still speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Christ.
Lord George Carey, who stepped down as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, three years ago warned that ethnic cleansing of Assyrians in mainly Muslim Iraq had worsened since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Christians of other persuasions too have have come under frequent attack in recent months, with clerics kidnapped and churches bombed.
Last month, the body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave in the northern city two weeks after he was kidnapped.
Rahho, 65, was abducted during a shootout in which three of his companions were killed, as he returned home after mass in Mosul on February 29.
He was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted since the US-led invasion of 2003.
Iraq`s Christians, with the Chaldean rite the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the US-led invasion nearly five years ago. The number today is believed to have dropped to half that figure.
In January, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his "spiritual closeness" to Christian victims of attacks in Iraq.
"Mindful that such attacks are also directed against the whole people of Iraq, His Holiness appeals to the perpetrators to renounce the ways of violence, which have caused so much suffering to the civilian population," the pope said.
Security officials also said a bomb exploded on a bus near Baghdad`s eastern Sadr City district on Saturday killing at least three people.
Around 16 passengers were wounded in the blast that struck at around 8:30 am.
The explosion took place around 200 metres (yards) from Sadr City, bastion of the Mahdi Army militia of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, in Beirut Square as the bus was leaving the district.
A vehicle curfew has been in place in Sadr City since last Thursday when heavy clashes between Shiite militiamen and security forces broke out in the sprawling neighbourhood of some two million people.
Since then buses have been picking up people from the edge of Sadr City.
A suspected Al-Qaeda hideout, meanwhile, has been uncovered on an island on the Tigris river in central Iraq by a group of Sunni Arabs fighting the Islamist militants, their leader said.
The hideout, from where Al-Qaeda`s operations in the provinces of Salaheddin, Anbar and Diyala are believed to have been coordinated, was found on an island in the Tigris near the city of Samarra, 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
Majin Younis Hassan, leader of the local anti-Qaeda group, said the hideout was discovered early on Saturday following an "intelligence tip".
"We found 1,500 heavy, medium and light weapons as well as several bombs," Hassan told AFP.
He said the underground hideout had four big rooms, each with eight beds.
"We found documents which were messages between the base and other Al-Qaeda branches. One document had the names of Al-Qaeda members, another was a message from the group`s chief (Abu Ayyub al-Masri) to other members."