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Al Qaida warns of further attacks

Al Qaida has threatened more attacks on Christians in Iraq following a siege at a Baghdad church that left 58 people dead.

The Islamic State of Iraq's warning of further violence against Christians came two days after the group's assault on a Catholic church in central Baghdad.

"We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood," the insurgent group said in a statement posted on militant websites.

The threat came as the death toll from violent attacks on Shiite neighbourhoods across the capital climbed to 91.

The attacks, designed to hit civilians at restaurants and cafes, have evoked painful memories of the bloody sectarian war Iraq's Sunni and Shiite militias fought in 2006 and 2007, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

The violence demonstrated the insurgents' ability to carry out coordinated attacks from one side of Baghdad to the other despite a network of police and army checkpoints and blast walls criss-crossing the capital.

The Islamic State of Iraq, which is an umbrella group that includes al Qaida in Iraq and other allied Sunni insurgent factions, also said that its deadline for the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt to release Muslim women that the militant group claims are being held captive has expired.

As a result, "all Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the muhajedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them," the group said. The statement did not specify any one location, raising the spectre of violence against Christians across the region.

The Baghdad church siege has horrified Iraq's Christian community, hundreds of whom gathered yesterday for a memorial service in Baghdad. One of the officials read a letter from the pope to the crowd.

"For years the violence hasn't stopped hitting this country, and Christians are becoming the target of these cruel terrorist attacks," the letter read.

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