Iraqi Priests Freed by Kidnappers

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By Ethan Cole, Christian Post Reporter
October 22, 2007|11:02 am

Two Iraqi Roman Catholic priests were freed in good condition on Sunday, church negotiators said.

“The two priests were left this morning by the kidnappers on a street in the middle of Mosul,” negotiators told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

“The priests then took a taxi and went to their church, which is now looking after them and won’t let anyone speak to them.”

Fathers Pius Affas, in his 60s, and Mazen Ishoa, in his 30s, were kidnapped in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 13 after being threatened for months by an unknown group that demanded they leave the area or else face an attack on the church, according to Rome-based missionary agency Middle East Concern.

The kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars earlier last week, but it is still unclear whether money was exchanged for Sunday’s release.

The Vatican, which issued a plea for the priests to be freed, welcomed their release.

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“We are extremely pleased with the release because we had worked intensively as it was a source of great concern,” said Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican’s media office, according to AFP.

“This is a sign of peace which we hope improves. We hope that such kidnappings will not be repeated.”

Iraq’s small Christian community – which shrunk from 1.2 million to about 600,000 after the 2003 U.S.-led offensive – has been the target of sectarian violence directed from both Sunni and Shiite Islamists, as well as criminal gangs.

Persecution of Christians includes kidnapping, killing, church bombing, and death threat letters.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – the bipartisan U.S. government task force responsible for monitoring religious freedom in the world – has warned of a possible “extinction” of certain Iraqi Christian communities, such as the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians, if the U.S. government does not intervene and protect Iraq’s Christians.

The largest Christian communities are located in the north in Mosul, Erbil, Dohuk, and Kirkuk.

 

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