The general secretary of the World Council of Churches has condemned a terrorist attack in Syria on Sunday thought to have targeted Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II.

Three members of security forces were killed and five more people wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb after he was prevented from entering a hall in the city of Qamishli in the country's north-east where the patriarch was presiding over a service commemorating the Assyrian genocide.

Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said he was "shocked" by the attack. "It was an action of terror and violence to Christian communities," he said in a statement. "I condemn the ideology and intentions behind this attack, and call for prayer and support for the members and leaders of all religious minority communities in the region who are increasingly threatened and attacked."

Rev Dr Tveit said while he thanked God that Patriarch Aphrem was not harmed in the attack, "our thoughts and prayers are especially for the families of those who lost their lives while protecting others from harm, and for the healing and recovery and healing of those who were wounded".

The event was reportedly being held to celebrate a new monument to the Assyrian genocide of 1915 in which tens of thousands were killed.