Orthodox Priest Abducted, Beheaded in Iraq

A Syrian Orthodox priest was found beheaded and dismembered in Iraq earlier this week, according to reports.

The body of Fr. Boulos Iskander, 59, was found Wednesday in the remote Tahrir City district of Mosul after he was abducted late on Monday.

“We are appalled to hear of such an atrocity and our thoughts and prayers are with Father Iskander’s family, church and friends,” said Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)’s chief executive, in a statement on Friday.

Following the abduction of Iskander, the kidnappers contacted the priest’s oldest son demanding $350,000 in ransom money, according to The Middle East Times. The amount was negotiated down to $40,000 if the priest’s church publicly renounced Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about Islam during his recent lecture in Germany.

St. Ephram parish of the Syrian Orthodox Church placed 30 large billboards around Mosul “distancing itself from the pontiff’s comments,” reported the Christian persecution news service Compass Direct. The family also managed to raise the ransom money.

However, suddenly on Tuesday night the phone calls stopped and Iskander’s dismembered body was discovered on Wednesday night about 1.2 miles from the center of Mosul.

“His arms and legs had been severed and arranged around his head, which rested on his chest,” described the persecution news agency Compass Direct.

At least 500 members of the Mosul Christian community attended the funeral service on Thursday with many crying severely.

“Many more wanted to come to the funeral,” a Syrian Orthodox clergyman at the funeral told Compass. “But they were afraid. We are in very bad circumstances now.”

Churches and the Christian community have been under attack in Iraq in recent weeks including at least 80 bullets fired at Mosul’s Chaldean Catholic Church on Sept. 24. Also on the same day in Baghdad, two bombs exploded near the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary that killed four civilians including the church guard and left 14 injured according to Compass Direct. The first explosion was set under the parish priest’s car and was timed to go off when believers left Sunday mass.

“We call upon the Iraqi authorities to do their best to protect Christians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and urge all religious communities in Iraq to exercise tolerance and restraint towards one another,” concluded CSW’s Thomas.