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Iraqi Kidnappers Behead Priest in Mosul

Vicious targeting of Christians accelerates during Ramadan.

Compass Direct News

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL , October 12– Iraqi kidnappers who abducted a Syrian Orthodox priest three days ago left his beheaded corpse in an outlying suburb of the northern city of Mosul last night.

Father Boulos Iskander, 59, was snatched off a Mosul street on Monday afternoon (October 9) while searching for car parts at local mechanic shops.

The Muslim kidnappers telephoned the priest’s oldest son soon afterwards, demanding $350,000 ransom from the family.

After negotiations in several more calls, the kidnappers gradually reduced their demands to $40,000 but added another stipulation: that the priest’s church must publicly repudiate Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about Islam in his lecture in Germany last month.

The family managed to raise and pay the ransom, and the St. Ephram parish of the Syrian Orthodox Church placed 30 large signboards on walls around the city, distancing itself from the pontiff’s comments. But then the telephone calls stopped.

Fr. Iskander’s dismembered body was discovered last night (October 11) at about 7 p.m. in the remote Tahrir City district, two kilometers (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. His remains were brought to a local hospital, which then notified his church.

News of the priest’s murder reached Damascus as Patriarch Zakka Iwaz was meeting with bishops of the Holy Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch.

The Bishop of Mosul Saliba Chamoun returned immediately from Damascus to Mosul in time to conduct the funeral service this afternoon. He announced during the service that he had been commissioned by Patriarch Iwaz to bestow on the martyred priest an honorary title of “archimandrite,” a cleric just below the rank of bishop.

A Syrian Orthodox clergyman present at Fr. Iskander’s funeral service today told Compass that at least 500 members of the Mosul Christian community attended, many of them weeping profusely. “Many more wanted to come to the funeral,” he said, “but they were afraid. We are in very bad circumstances now.”

Fr. Iskander is survived by his wife, Azhar, sons Fadi and Yohanna, a married daughter, Fadiyeh, and a daughter, Mariam, 13.

“It is a very sad and difficult day for us,” Bishop Chamoun told Compass. “Father Boutros was very active. And he loved very much his mission in the church.”

Yesterday Iraqi church sources also reported that a Christian layman from Baghdad , Dr. Joseph Fridon Petros, 55, was ambushed and killed while traveling home from Diala to the capital.

Ramadan Atrocities

The deadly targeting of Iraqi’s Christians has shot up since the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting now into its third week.

According to the Catholic Asia News agency, Islamist militants distributed flyers across Mosul after Pope Benedict’s controversial lecture in Germany , demanding that the local Catholic clergy condemn the Pope’s remarks about Islam. If they did not do so, the threats said, “Christians will be killed and churches burned down.”

Underlining the warning against Mosul ’s Christian community, armed militants surrounded the local Chaldean Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit on September 24. The attackers fired at least 80 bullets at the church, damaging the eastern side of the building and shattering some windows. Although the attack came shortly after 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, no services were in progress at the time and no injuries reported.

In Baghdad that same Sunday, two bombs that exploded near the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad ’s central Al-Kerada district killed four civilians, including the church guard, and wounded 14 others. The initial explosion, set under the parish priest Ezaria Warda’s car, was timed to go off as worshippers left Sunday mass, with a second car exploding a few minutes later.

Another armed attack was mounted in Mosul on October 2 against the convent of the Iraqi Dominican Sisters. No one was injured in the hail of bullets, although the convent’s garden was set afire.

After two days, unknown militants returned to fire shots at Mosul ’s Church of the Holy Spirit on October 4, and again on October 5, injuring one of the guards who required hospitalization.

According to sources inside Iraq , some of the Christian clergy have stopped wearing their clerical robes in public to avoid inciting attacks.

Iraq ’s young Christian women have also become open targets for insurgents plying the kidnapping industry over the past two weeks.

“In one case in Baghdad , the victim committed suicide after the ransom was paid and she went home, because of the torture and sexual violence she suffered,” Asia News reported yesterday. Another girl who was subjected to gang rape took her own life while still in her captors’ hands.