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Kidnappers Free Iraqi Priest

Undaunted, Chaldean cleric plans to continue work in Baghdad .

by Peter Lamprecht

ISTANBUL, November 29 (Compass Direct News) – Anonymous kidnappers released a Chaldean Catholic priest in Baghdad last night, nine days after he was last seen celebrating mass in his Baghdad parish.

The captors dropped Father Douglas Yousef Al-Bazy on a street near Baghdad ’s Naariya district at 7:30 p.m., Baghdad Auxiliary Bishop Andreas Abouna told Compass from Baghdad .

After visiting Al-Bazy this morning at a local hospital where he was receiving medical attention, Abouna said that the priest had not been tortured by his kidnappers.

“There was nothing serious at all,” Abouna commented. “It was only one week until he was found, so it was very quick.”

The bishop said that Al-Bazy was feeling “strong” emotionally and that he planned to carry on in his work as parish priest of St. Elijah’s Church in Baghdad ’s Naariya district.

“I know that the prayers of people saved me,” Al-Bazy told Abouna during their meeting in the hospital.

The Chaldean priest is no stranger Baghdad ’s daily violence. St. Mari, his former parish, was one of several hit in coordinated bomb attacks on January 29, and in February he was shot at while helping a pregnant woman into the safety of the church in the middle of a gun fight.

In an interview with German human rights group Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) in Munich this summer, Al-Bazy said that he was not afraid to return to the chaos of Baghdad .

“I must return to my parish,” Al-Bazy told GfbV. “It needs me more than ever. My life is in the hand of God.”

It remained unclear whether ransom money had been paid for Al-Bazy’s release. The priest’s captors had made ransom demands as early as last Thursday (November 23), four days after the kidnapping.

“They [the kidnappers] contacted a personal friend of Father Douglas, who was not with the church,” Abouna commented. “From my own side, I don’t know anything.”

Christians Targeted?

Al-Bazy is the fifth priest kidnapped in the past five months, four of them Chaldean Catholics. In October a Syrian Orthodox priest was brutally murdered in Mosul after his kidnappers demanded that church leaders post signboards denouncing Pope Benedict XVI’s negative comments on Islam.

But Bishop Abouna emphasized that the kidnappings were not part of a larger plan by Islamic extremist groups to target Christians.

“This is not against priests or churches,” Abouna told Compass. “It is because they are kidnapping many other people, not only priests.”

Kidnappings and executions of Muslims carried out weekly by Sunni and Shia militias dwarf the number of incidents against Iraq ’s Christians. In a high profile kidnapping earlier this month, terrorists dressed in police uniforms kidnapped more than 50 workers from Baghdad ’s higher education facility.

Yet some church leaders believe that Iraq ’s Christian community is being specifically targeted. Following Al-Bazy’s disappearance, Baghdad Auxiliary Bishop Shleman Wardouni said that extremists might be targeting young “courageous” Christians to discourage the community from staying in Iraq .

Last month the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 24 percent of Iraqi refugees registered with its offices in Syria were Christians, though the tiny religious minority makes up less than 3 percent of Iraq ’s total population.

“Members of the Christian minority in the past have been specifically targeted, with documented attacks against churches, the forcible closure of Christian-owned liquor stores and other forms of harassment,” the report stated.

An Eastern rite church in communion with Rome , Chaldean Catholics constitute the largest Christian community in Iraq .