Iraqi Catholic Archbishop Kidnapped in Mosul

A Catholic archbishop in the northwestern Iraqi city of Mosul has been kidnapped amidst the escalating violent insurgency in recent months. According to an eyewitness, the kidnapped priest, identified by the Vatican to be Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of the Syrian Catholic Church, was forced into a car as he was walking in front of the Al-Bishara church in Mosul's eastern neighborhood of Muhandeseen.

"The Holy See deplores in the firmest way such a terrorist act," a Vatican statement said, demanding that Casmoussa, 66, be freed immediately.

According to Reuters, Casmoussa is believed to be the highest-ranking Catholic prelate to be abducted in Iraq, where the local church has been the target of a bombing campaign that has rattled the tiny Christian minority, especially in recent months as the country’s first democratic elections approaches.

Although the reason for the kidnapping was unclear, Iraqi Christians—who have traditionally kept a relatively low profile, mindful of their precarious position in an overwhelmingly Muslim society—have been subjected to attacks in the past. Mosul, home to tens of thousands of Christians whom live in and around the city, in particular has been a hotspot of violent insurgency in recent months.

Last month, gunmen attacked two churches in Mosul on Dec. 7, forcing people to leave and setting off explosions inside the buildings that caused damage but no personal harm. In November, masked men detonated a bomb near an Orthodox Church in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 34. In October, five Baghdad churches were attacked, causing damage but no casualties. And in August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians.

Officials estimate that as many as 15,000 of Iraq's 700,000 Christians have left the country since August. Others estimate figures to be as high as 40,000.