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Kidnapped Iraqi Clergyman Released after Six Days

Priest-nabbing becomes lucrative business in Baghdad .

by Peter Lamprecht

ISTANBUL, December 12 (Compass Direct News) – A Chaldean priest kidnapped in front of his Baghdad home last week was released Sunday (December 10), the Chaldean Patriarchate has reported on its official website.

Father Samy Abdulahad Al-Raiys was freed six days after he had been abducted in Baghdad ’s Al-Sinaa street near the University of Technology while driving to his parish.

“It is the fifth priest kidnapped, and two were killed in Mosul ,” commented one Baghdad priest who requested anonymity. “So many of us are frightened. We are asking, ‘Who will be the next?’”

Baghdad Patriarchate officials were unavailable for comment, and Al-Raiys’ physical condition and the specific circumstances of his release remain unknown.

Al-Raiys worked as rector of Baghdad ’s Chaldean seminary and was a professor of theology at Babel College . The seminary was scheduled to begin classes last week after growing violence had delayed the school’s fall semester opening.

In Al-Raiys’ absence classes were once again postponed, Catholic news service Asia News reported yesterday. According to Asia News, the seminary and college had recently relocated to New Baghdad in the east of the capital to avoid the daily violence that has plagued Dora, the city’s traditionally Christian district.

Lucrative Business

Al-Raiys is the seventh Iraqi clergyman to be kidnapped since July. His disappearance came only five days after Baghdad Chaldean cleric Douglas Yousef Al-Bazy was released on November 29.

“His nose was broken and he had to have an operation,” one Christian source told Compass. Requesting anonymity, the source said that Al-Bazy has temporarily moved to northern Iraq , where he is living with relatives and recovering from his kidnapping.

It remains unclear whether the church or family paid ransom money for either Al-Raiys or Al-Bazy.

“If they had been kidnapped for political reasons, they would have killed them or demanded something from them,” commented one Iraqi Christian who has been monitoring violence against his community. “But when they are released and you don’t hear anything about why, then it must mean they are getting money.”

The observer, who requested anonymity, said that he expected another priest to be kidnapped within days. “I think they are going to take more and more priests, because it is a very good commercial [business].”

Though Christians have been targeted for their faith, a Baghdad priest confirmed to Compass that money is also an important motive for priests’ kidnappings.

“The situation is not only between Christians and Muslims, we are the target of gangs,” the priest said. “Every time they kidnap a priest it is to get more money.”

Father Saad Sirop, a Chaldean cleric abducted in August, was freed only after the church paid an unspecified sum of money.

Kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Iraq , where abducted Westerners often draw the highest ransoms. On the day of Al-Raiys’ release, four South Africans working for a security company were kidnapped along with five Iraqis when their convoy was stopped at a road block.

Revenge Motive

Not all kidnapped clergy have had the chance to buy their freedom. On November 30 the body of a church elder from Mosul ’s Presbyterian Church was discovered in a city street with a bullet wound to the head. The previous month, a Syrian Orthodox priest from the same city was brutally murdered, his decapitated body left piled in front of his church.

In both cases the kidnappers negotiated for ransom money but eventually killed their captives, citing revenge for a papal speech at the University of Regensburg in September deemed derogatory to Islam.

“ Baghdad is very different from Mosul ,” said one Iraqi Christian. Violence against Christians in Mosul is “not about money, it is more political.”

Mosul , the ancient city of Ninevah , lies just south of the Ninevah plain where much of Iraq ’s Christian population is located. Iraqi Christians have begun to debate the creation of an autonomous region for religious minorities in the plain, as violence in Baghdad and Mosul has prompted tens of thousands of Christian’s to flee their homes in the south.

“We are on the edge of the world,” said one Baghdad priest when asked how Christians could pray for the church in Iraq . “We hope that Christmas can bring something new.”