/ 14 March 2008

Iraq archbishop kidnappers wanted $1-million

Kidnappers of a Chaldean Catholic archbishop found dead in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul had demanded a $1-million ransom, a senior police official said on Friday.

Paulos Faraj Rahho, the archbishop of Mosul, 390km north of Baghdad, was abducted on February 29 after gunmen attacked his car and killed his driver and two guards.

Rahho’s body was found in an empty lot in eastern Mosul on Thursday and is due to buried on Friday. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has blamed al-Qaeda for his death.

”Reports reached us that there were talks between the kidnappers and relatives of the kidnapped archbishop … we heard that a ransom demand reached $1-million,” said Brigadier-General Khaled Abdul Sattar, the police spokesperson for Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

Andraws Abuna, assistant to the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, said there had been talks between Christian officials and the kidnappers but he did not know about the ransom.

The United States military also said it had no details about the ransom but US commanders in northern Iraq have said the kidnappers may have wanted money.

Abuna said the Church in Mosul had received a call on Thursday telling them Rahho was dead.

Church members found his half-buried body in an empty lot and took it to Mosul morgue, Abuna said, adding he did not know who made the call.

Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practices an ancient Eastern rite and form the biggest Christian community in Iraq.

Rahho’s death drew condemnation from the Vatican, US President George Bush and Maliki.

Police said it was not clear whether Rahho (65) had been killed or died of other causes. He appeared to have been dead a week and had no bullet wounds, police at the morgue in Mosul said. He was dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt.

Sattar said the body showed signs of decomposition.

A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped and killed and churches bombed in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion. A former archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, was kidnapped in 2005 but was released after a day in captivity. – Reuters