Istanbul, January 18 (Compass) — Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa was accosted by armed men late yesterday afternoon as he left the home of a family of parishioners near the university in Mosul. The abductors, who were unmasked, forced the archbishop into the trunk of a car and drove off with him, diocese officials reported.
The Vatican reacted quickly to the abduction last night, calling it a “despicable terrorist act” and demanding Casmoussa’s immediate release.
This morning before the cleric’s release, one of his close friends spoke with Compass by telephone from Mosul. “The archbishop is alive. He has telephoned to his church,” the source said. Hinting at a ransom demand, the source said the church was “negotiating” with the kidnappers.
Archbishop Casmoussa was released just before noon local time today, less than an hour after church officials had reported that his abductors were demanding a $200,000 ransom.
By 2:15 p.m., the Rome-based Catholic missionary news agency MISNA reported, the archbishop had arrived back at the offices of his diocese. Mosul church officials and Vatican sources declared that no ransom had been paid for his release, MISNA said.
The prelate told Vatican Radio today that he had been treated well during his day in captivity, which he described as a “coincidence.” “As soon as they found out I was a bishop, their attitude changed,” he said.
According to a spokesman for the Mosul diocese, “The captors did not know that their hostage was an archbishop.” Reportedly, many Iraqi priests have recently chosen to wear civilian clothing to avoid being targeted by insurgents.
Although kidnapping has become a common phenomenon in Iraq, it remains unclear whether the motive of Casmoussa’s abductors was political, religious or financial.
According to a press release issued today by the U.K.-based Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “ … within the past few weeks, Archbishop Casmoussa had refused to comply with Mosul Arab demands for Christians to leave the city and the surrounding villages.”
Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako told ACN that he was “convinced the abduction was politically motivated and not the work of a hit squad.”
When Archbishop Sako spoke with Compass, he noted that he had only talked with Archbishop Casmoussa for a minute by telephone after his release today and that he did not know “precisely” why his fellow bishop had been kidnapped.
“But I think that they wanted to push the Christians not to go to vote in the elections,” he stated. Another priest who requested anonymity agreed that it appeared to be an attempt to intimidate the Christians in Mosul and nearby villages.
Dogged by insurgent violence for the past 10 weeks, Mosul is considered of critical importance to the upcoming elections on Sunday, January 30. As Iraq’s third-largest city, some two-thirds of its residents are Sunni Muslims. It is also home to one of the country’s largest Christian communities.
“Maybe the next time somebody is targeted, it will be me,” Archbishop Sako told ACN. “Who knows? The situation here is getting worse and worse.”
Meanwhile, Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel Delly confirmed today from Baghdad that several days ago, a Chaldean priest had also been kidnapped and held by gunmen for 24 hours and then released. “We do not know who was responsible,” the patriarch told MISNA. But he emphasized that such incidents were not “deliberate attacks against Christians,” but rather indications that “Iraq is in a state of chaos.”
From Rome, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls stressed that the Vatican did not view Casmoussa’s kidnapping as “an anti-Christian act” but rather part of the general climate of violence in Iraq.
In the wake of a wave of 12 church bombings since August, Iraq’s Christian community has kept an increasingly low profile, even canceling its traditional midnight Christmas mass last month.
An estimated three percent of Iraq’s population is Christian, although several thousand Christian families have fled to Syria and Jordan since the overt church attacks began five months ago.
© 2005 Compass Direct. – Posted on Religioscope with permission from Compass Direct. – Compass Direct (Santa Ana, California) is a Christian news service dedicated to providing news on situations and events facing Christians persecuted for their faith. Compass Direct maintains an extensive network of news bureaus and correspondents around the world.