Mosul, Iraq - Gunmen have kidnapped the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and murdered three of his aides. The 65 year old archbishop was ordained in 2001. Archibishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was ambushed as he left a church in the eastern al-Nour district, immediately after he finished celebrating the rite of the Via Crucis at a local church and shared consoling words of hope and peace.
Eyewitnesses said that a group of armed men attacked Archbishop Rahho’s vehicle. The gunmen opened fire on the car, killing the three aides, before kidnapping the archbishop. There is no further information of Rahho's whereabouts or his condition. An aide to Iraq's Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the church, said he did not know who was behind the kidnapping of the 65-year-old archbishop.
Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops. Fanatic Muslims are using this strategy in order to recruit other extremists, raise terror funds, and force Christians to flee the country forfeiting their homes and property to extremists. Property is then sold or used to fund insurgency strikes against coalition forces.
Last year's International Religious Freedom Report from the U.S. State Department noted that Chaldean Catholics comprise a minority of the Iraqi population, but are the largest group among the less than 1 million Christians remaining in Muslim Iraq.
The killing and kidnapping of the Chaldean Archbishop comes less than a year after bombs exploded outside two Chaldean churches, an Assyrian church and a monastery in Mosul, wounding four people, and a Chaldean Catholic priest and three subdeacons were gunned down outside the same Mosul church.
Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and subdeacons Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid were killed June 3 while leaving the Church of the Holy Spirit after having celebrated Sunday Mass. Father Ganni, the three subdeacons, and the wife of one of the subdeacons were driving away from the church when their car was blocked by a group of armed militants.
The armed men forced the woman out of the car. Once the woman was away from the vehicle the armed men asked the men to convert or be killed. The faithful men began to pray when gun the gunman opened fire on Father Ganni and the three subdeacons. A subdeacon is an ordination rank lower than deacon in most Eastern Catholic churches.
The militants then placed explosives around the car to prevent anyone from retrieving the four bodies. Later that night, authorities finally managed to defuse the explosives and retrieve the bodies.
"The bishop is in the hands of terrorists," Bishop Qas told reporters. "But we don't know what physical condition (the archbishop is in); the three men who were with him in the car, including his driver, were killed," he explained. "It's a terrible time for our church; pray for us," he said.
The kidnappers have reportedly communicated their demands, which were not made public. "We pray for his release as soon as possible," said Archbishop Andreos Abouna. "This act of abduction against a Christian clergy member will increase our fears and worries about the situation of Christians in Iraq."
Churches, priests and business owned by Christians have been systematically attacked by Islamic militants forcing most Christians to flee the country. Without any protection and indifference by the Iraqi government Christians in Iraq remain viable targets for terrorist groups to raise money and attempt to overthrow the government.
Last June, Pope Benedict XVI expressed deep concern about the plight of Christians caught in the deadly sectarian crossfire in Iraq and pressed President Bush in a meeting to keep their safety in mind. "Particularly in Iraq, Christian families and communities are feeling increasing pressure from insecurity, aggression and a sense of abandonment," Benedict said at the time.
Although Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged last fall to protect and support the Christian minority little has been done.
Though most of Iraq has witnessed a decrease of violence over the past six months, the U.S. military regards Mosul as the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq, and is engaged in a campaign with Iraqi forces to root out extremists from the city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency reported in November that Rahho said the situation in Mosul was not improving and "religious persecution is more noticeable than elsewhere because the city is split along religious lines."
"Everyone is suffering from this war irrespective of religious affiliation, but in Mosul Christians face starker choices," he told the Vatican news agency.
The lack of outcry by the Muslim community around the world continues to fan the flame that Muslim sentiments are callous and indifferent to the suffering of innocent people. “Planting bombs targeting women and children, assassinations of peaceful clergy, and destruction of historical and cultural milestones by Muslims has raised concerns internationally of the Muslim religion and the lack of understanding by Muslim religious leaders, says Amer Hassou, a Chaldean student of political science.
“The growing dissatisfaction continues to destroy the credibility of Islam marketed as a religion of peace when violence is carried out in the name of Mohamed around the globe,” he adds.