Officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City expressed sadness Monday over the loss of a Mormon chapel in Chile this week, but gratitude that no one was injured in the attack.
Leftist guerrillas invaded a chapel and ordered about 30 people attending a Sunday service out at gunpoint before setting it on fire, police reported.Police said no one was hurt, but the chapel in a northern Santiago working class neighborhood was badly damaged.
"We are saddened that the Chilean people who used that building have now lost their place of worship," Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of public communications/special affairs for the church said in a statement. "At the same time, we express our gratitude that those worshippers who were in the meeting house were allowed to leave and that no one was hurt."
Police said about 15 masked guerrillas, including three women, took part in the attack at the chapel in La Pincoya suburb.
Before fleeing, the guerrillas wrote "Yankees out" on a chapel wall, and left behind pamphlets of the Lautaro Front, a small radical leftist guerrilla gang.
The Front has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Mormon chapels in recent months, including at least nine during the 23-hour visit to Chile by President George Bush on Dec. 6.
The group claims the LDS Church is "a tool of Yankee imperialism."
In the past, church officials have denied the Front's accusation, saying the church is not involved in politics. They also say a majority of the some 200 missionaries working in Chile are Chileans, not Americans.
"As we have in relation to similar attacks in the past, we again emphasize that these are attacks on churches built by Chileans for the use of Chileans," Olsen said.