Kidnappers withdraw agreement to free Iraqi priests

pius_affas.jpgMOSUL, Iraq (AFP) — The kidnappers of two Roman Catholic priests in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have withdrawn an agreement for their release, a Christian group said on Tuesday.

Father Pius Affas and Father Mazen Ishoa, both Iraqis, were kidnapped in Mosul on Saturday by an unknown group, and Pope Benedict XVI subsequently made an appeal for their release.

“It appears that agreement was reached for their release, leading to reports of their having been released,” said a statement from Middle East Concern. “However, the kidnappers subsequently withdrew from the agreement and demanded a larger ransom.”

The Christian group said the two priests had received a letter two months ago warning them that the church would be attacked if they did not leave.

It said Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa was involved in efforts to free Father Affas, who is in his 60s, and Father Ishoa, in his 30s.

Father Affas is originally from Mosul, a bastion of the Sunni insurgency, and has been a priest for over 40 years, while Father Ishoa is from a Christian village south of the city, the statement said.

“I learned today that two priests from the archdiocese of Mosul were kidnapped and threatened with death,” Pope Benedict said on Sunday. “I call on the abductors to rapidly liberate the two clerics and I reiterate that violence does not resolve the tensions.”

Christians are a tiny minority in Iraq.