A bomb killed two men and damaged a historic church in a northern Iraqi city on Wednesday, one day ahead of Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on the country's Christian minority.

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A bomb killed two men and damaged a historic church in a northern Iraqi city on Wednesday, one day ahead of Christmas Eve services that will be heavily guarded for fear of more attacks on the country’s Christian minority.

The bomb in Mosul was hidden under sacks of baking flour in a handcart left 15 yards (meters) from the Mar Toma Church, also known as Church of St. Thomas, a police officer said.

The officer said the two killed were Muslims, and that five other people were injured. A hospital official confirmed the casualties.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

The extent of the damage to the church was not immediately clear. The blast occurred in an area where streets have been closed to cars and trucks to protect Mosul’s dwindling Christian population.

Iraqi defense officials warned earlier in the week that intelligence reports pointed to attacks during Christmas, leading the government to step up security near churches and Christian neighborhoods.

Most of the increased security will be in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, said Defense spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.

Christians have frequently been targeted since turmoil swept the country following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, although the attacks have ebbed with an overall drop in violence. Still, tens of thousands of Christians have fled; many who stayed were isolated in neighborhoods protected by barricades and checkpoints.

A coordinated bombing campaign in 2004 targeted churches in the Iraqi capital and anti-Christian violence also flared in September 2007 after Pope Benedict XVI made comments perceived to be against Islam.

Churches, priests and businesses have been attacked by militants who denounce Christians as pro-American “crusaders.” The body of Paulos Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in March 2008 following his abduction by gunmen after a Mass.

Also Wednesday, a bomb planted on a minibus killed two people and injured five in a Shiite neighborhood in north Baghdad, police and hospital officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.