Over 100 Christians were burned alive after a fire broke out during a Christian wedding ceremony in Iraq on Oct. 3, 2023; another 150 attendees were seriously injured. Nearly 60 of those killed in the inferno were directly related to the bride and groom.
To quote from one report,
Tragedy struck the Assyrian Christian town of Hamdaniya in Nineveh province … during a joyous wedding when scenes of celebration and laughter soon derailed into a hellish nightmare when the banquet hall caught on fire. At least a hundred died and over 150 were also injured.
The town of Hamdaniya, it is worth recalling,
is one of Iraq’s only Christian-majority districts, located in the Nineveh Plains near Mosul, a historic Assyrian region. Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains, it was taken over by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists during their brazen sweep of northern Iraq, where they declared a so-called “caliphate” and inflicted grave atrocities on minority groups, including Christians.
In a press conference held on the same day of the tragedy, the Iraqi government announced that its investigation had “conclusively concluded” that the fire was “accidental,” and “not intentional at all.”
Minutes later, the Syriac Church slammed the announcement: “We reject it [the results], we don’t accept it,” said the Archbishop of Mosul Benedictus Younan Hanno, adding that “political conspiracies” might be afoot.
The archbishop especially rejected the idea that the fire was caused by fireworks: “there are tens of videos,” he said, “showing that they were not the reason.”
The archbishop is voicing the opinion of most Iraqi Christians present. After also categorically rejecting the fireworks claim, the groom of the wedding, Rivan, 27, strongly implied arson:
We demand the rights of those whose blood was spilt. Why did their blood have to be spilled? We demand their rights and we demand the perpetrator of this action, him and all who are behind him. We demand an international investigation, not a local or federal investigation.
It is worth noting that this scenario—a fire claims Christian lives only for Muslim authorities to say it was “accidental”—has played out many times in the Middle East. Take Egypt, for example, where the region’s largest Christian minority resides.
Most recently, on Mar. 29, 2023, a massive fire broke out and completely consumed an ancient church in Assyut. Even before a proper inspection could be carried out, the fire was immediately blamed on a “leaky gas bottle.”
The most tragic of all examples, however, occurred on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, when the Church of Abu Seifein in Cairo caught fire during morning mass. At least 41 Christians—18 of whom were children—were killed in the flames. As usual, minutes after it broke out, officials immediately attributed the fire to faulty wires, etc. Arson was, without any real investigation, ruled out.
Indeed, in just that same month of August, 2022 alone, a total of 10 other Coptic churches “caught fire” in Egypt.
There appears to be no shortage of examples. On Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, a fire broke out in and “devoured” a church in the Giza Governorate. It was blamed on a small candle left on a votary stand. However, images from surveillance cameras clearly show that “the candle ignited suddenly and in an unusual way.”
It should also be noted that sometimes, after officials conclude that a church fire was due to some accident, it comes out that arson was indeed the true cause—not that the authorities will admit it. On Aug. 16, 2022, the Church of Saint Mary the Egyptian in Alexandria caught fire. Although it too was instantly attributed to “natural causes,” at least one eyewitness saw someone on the balcony of a residential building adjacent to the church hurl some combustible substance onto the church, starting the fire.
Considering the severe persecution of Christians in nations such as Egypt and Iraq, and the willful targeting of their churches—hundreds of Coptic and Assyrian churches have been torched in recent years—it is, of course, difficult to automatically rule out terrorism or arson in all of these “accidental” fires.
In reality, however, even if all of these fires are truly accidental, products of fireworks and faulty wires, the Muslim governments of Egypt and Iraq are still largely to blame. Since the Arab-Islamic conquest of the formerly Christian majority Middle East, severe restrictions, based on sharia stipulations, have made it next to impossible for Christians not only to build but to repair churches.
As a result, and as even the New York Times once reported:
The Copts have long complained about being the victims of discrimination on the basis of their religion. One aspect of that discrimination are government restrictions on the construction, renovation and repair of churches in the largely Muslim country. These restrictions have left many of the buildings in disrepair and made them fire hazards.
In short, there seems to be little that is “accidental” in the burning of Christian churches and people—most recently over 100—in the Middle East.