Tortured and abducted: An Iraqi bishop’s personal account of captivity

  • Written by:

Tony Assaf
Abducted for 28 days in 2006 by a group of terrorists associated with al-Qaeda, tortured, and threatened with death, Iraqi bishop Saad Sirop Hanna refused to renounce Christ.

Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna did not expect to undergo such a bitter experience in a land he had known since his childhood. Born in Iraq in 1972, Bishop Sirop finished his training as an aeronautical engineer before entering the Baghdad seminary. After his priestly ordination for the Diocese of San Diego, he continued his studies at the Gregorian University of Rome and obtained a PhD in philosophy in 2008.

Kidnapped during the Mass on August 15

Two years before earning his doctorate, while celebrating the Mass on August 15 in Iraq, he was kidnapped by al-Qaeda militants. This event was a terrible shock for him; he never thought it could happen to him in his own country. “I asked myself first of all if it had really happened in Iraq. Iraq is not what it was. There are so many misunderstandings, differences, aggression… I asked myself these questions as a Christian and an Iraqi. I was born in Baghdad and I lived all my childhood there. I graduated from university and at the time I had a lot of friends from different religions,” he explains.

For twenty-eight days, Father (now Bishop) Saad Sirop Hanna found himself in the hands of the militants, who tirelessly tortured him in an attempt to force him to deny Christ, but his faith helped him hold on. “I drew my strength from God, and I owe him my new life.” At that time, the story of his kidnapping went around the world, and international reactions were not long in coming. Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to the leaders of the Church in Iraq, urging all parties to work for the release of Father Sirop Hanna. He was finally released on September 11, 2006, after 28 days of captivity.

“Chaldean and Assyrian traditions are in danger”

Today, he calls on the whole world to fight against Islamism and to protect Eastern Christians who are exposed to the worst forms of persecution. In 2017, he published a book to share his testimony: Abducted in Iraq: a priest in Baghdad. “I love Iraq and I love my people. I want to continue working here as a priest,” he declared in Baghdad, adding that he has a large number of Muslim friends for whom he has great affection. He adds that he is not a priest only for Christians, but also for Muslims—a man of dialogue necessary for the rapprochement between the two religions and for maintaining peace.

“I hope that I may help Christians overcome the challenges and difficulties they are facing in all countries of the Middle East, especially in Iraq, where their situation is often ignored. We are witnessing the possible end of one of the oldest Christian traditions in the world: the apostolic tradition of the Eastern Church. Chaldean and Assyrian traditions are in danger; the world needs to see and listen to the voice of this suffering Church.”

Tortured and abducted: An Iraqi bishop’s personal account of captivity