BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” A man involved in the murder of Chaldean Catholic archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in March has been sentenced to death, the government said on Sunday.
“The Iraqi Central Criminal Court has sentenced convict Ahmed Ali Ahmed to death because of his involvement in the murder of archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in Mosul,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The cleric’s body was found two weeks after he was kidnapped as he returned home after mass on February 29. The military had said they arrested a man directly involved in the murder two days after the body was found on March 13.
The US embassy in Baghdad welcomed the verdict.
“Reiterating our condolences to the archbishop’s family and community, we commend the Iraqi authorities for bringing the perpetrator of this brutal crime to justice,” a statement said.
Dabbagh said Ahmed, is also known as Abu Omar, was a wanted Al-Qaeda leader and that he was sentenced under anti-terrorism laws.
It was not known when the sentence would be carried out.
The US embassy and the American military had blamed Al-Qaeda for Rahho’s death which the church had said was a direct consequence of the kidnapping.
Dabbagh said Rahho had been one of Iraq’s most prominent clerics and that he had advocated peace and tolerance in the war-torn country.
Rahho was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted since the US-led invasion of 2003.
His death fuelled fear among Iraqi Christians who have come under frequent attack in recent months, with clerics kidnapped and churches bombed.
In April gunmen shot dead an Assyrian Orthodox priest, Youssef Adel, near his house in central Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood.
Iraq’s Christians, with the Chaldeans by far the largest community, were said to number as many as 800,000 before the invasion. Today their numbers are believed to have been halved.
The northern Iraqi city of Mosul has the highest concentration of Christians. It is also also regarded by the US military as a stronghold of Al-Qaeda.
Government forces and the US military have reported arresting more than 1,100 suspects in a Mosul crackdown targeting Al-Qaeda fighters and their financiers which began on Wednesday.