Iraqi Church Leaders Missing for Two Weeks after Attack

The entire lay leadership team of a main Anglican church in Baghdad, Iraq, has been missing for two weeks after they were attacked while returning from a conference in Jordan via a dangerous road west of Baghdad.

According to the U.K.-based Times newspaper, Canon Andrew White of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, who is the clergyman in charge of the church, said, "Anglican leaders in Baghdad have been missing for two weeks and they are presumed dead."

The five missing lay ministers are all Iraqis. They are top leaders of the St George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, which has an 800-strong congregation. White had helped reopening the Church after the Iraqi war in 2003 and now it has one of the largest congregations in Baghdad, the Times reported.

"We are all devastated. This is the very core of our Anglican Church in Iraq," White commented.

The missing leaders were last heard from on Sept. 13 when they reported to White that they were being attacked traveling on road between Ramadi and Falluja, the Times said.

The Times reported that U.S. forces have been helping to check for their whereabouts, but there has been no sign of them till now.

"It is the most dangerous area in Iraq," White continued as saying, "One of two things must have happened. They either got kidnapped or they died. But we have had no ransom demand or anything."

White told the Times they were not likely to be targeted because they were Anglicans. He reiterated the fact that attacks actually happen very often, especially on people who appear to be richer.

Those missing include Maher Dakel, a lay pastor; his wife, Mona, who leads the women's section of the church; their son Yeheya; the church's pianist and music director, Firas Raad; a deputy lay pastor; and their driver, whose name has not been disclosed.

The Right Rev Colin Bennetts, Bishop of Coventry, England, commented the lost of five church ministers as "sad and poignant", while speaking to the Times.

"When we first visited Iraq in 1999 it was my privilege to preach at the re-opening of St George’s Church in the center of Baghdad," the bishop said. “We all saw this as a sign of hope and a new beginning under the desperate and despotic regime of Saddam. Since that time the church has grown from a handful of worshippers to a congregation of hundreds. For them to lose their leadership in this way is a sad and terrible blow."

The alleged killing of the Anglican ministers is one of several recent incidents of violence in the unstable Baghdad area. On Sept. 29, a female suicide bomber blew herself up outside an army recruiting center, killing at least seven people and wounding 37, according to Times.

At a mainly Shiite town, suicide attackers exploded near-simultaneous car bombs Thursday, killing at least 60 people and wounding 70.

The new surge of violence is said to be triggered by the upcoming Oct. 15 referendum on Iraq's constitution, which has caused divisions among Iraqis.

Bishop Bennetts urged “Christians everywhere to continue to pray for the Church in Iraq in these even more troublesome times."