Fears grow for kidnapped archbishop

FEARS for the life of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, captured by gunmen last week, were growing on Wednesday after negotiators had still not heard from him after five days.

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, aged 67 and suffering from a heart condition, was kidnapped at 5.15 p.m. last Friday as he left the Holy Spirit Church in the Al-Noor area of Mosul city. His driver and bodyguard were shot dead, and a security guard died later in hospital. The kidnappers have demanded $1 million for his release.

On Wednesday, Dr Suha Rassam, head of the London-based charity Iraqi Christians in Need, said that the negotiators had repeatedly asked to hear the voice of the Archbishop to confirm his welfare. So far, the kidnappers had refused. “We are very worried about him,” Dr Rassam said.

The Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Baghdad, the Rt Revd Andreas Abouna, said on Monday that he was “full of hope” that the Archbishop was still alive. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, he said: “The people responsible have obviously done this for money, but they clearly also wanted to scare the Christians in Mosul and all over the country, and let them know they are not safe.”

About 50,000 of Iraq’s remaining 550,000 Chaldean Christians live in Mosul, but tens of thousands have fled since the outbreak of war and sectarian violence.

Pope Benedict said in a statement that he was “saddened, deeply saddened”, and the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he hoped Anglicans would respond to the Pope’s invitation “for the universal Church [to] unite in fervent prayer so that reason and compassion prevail in the kidnappers and Archbishop Rahho is given back as soon as possible to his flock”.

Dr Williams also hoped that Muslim leaders in the region would call for his prompt release.

The UN Secretary General’s special representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, denounced the continuous kidnapping, killing, and targeting of religious minorities. “It is appalling that these attacks on communities that have lived peacefully together in north Iraq for centuries, are continuing,” he said on Saturday.

He called on the Iraqi government to redouble its efforts to protect the country’s minorities, and preserve their human rights and the country’s diversity as entrenched in its constitution.

It was the second time in a week that Mr de Mistura had made such a call. On Wednesday of last week he denounced the suicide attacks made on Muslim pilgrims on their way to Karbala on 24 and 25 February as “appalling crimes against humanity”.