Iraq Priest Beheaded Over Pope Speech

Friday, October 13, 2006

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife

BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife) -- Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped and beheaded three days later said Thursday, October 12, that the captors demanded his church condemns the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a US$350,000 ransom.

Over 500 people reportedly attended a memorial service Thursday, October 12, for father Paulos Iskander, or Paul Alexander in English, in the northern city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found Wednesday evening, October 11, in an industrial area of the city, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad.

Iskander, 59, was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul. "He was a good man and we all shed tears for him," said Eman Saaur, a 45-year-old schoolteacher who added she attended Iskander's church regularly. "He was a man of peace."

Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, told reporters that the unidentified group that seized Iskander on Sunday, October 10, had demanded a ransom and that his church condemn a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI last month that ignited anger throughout the Muslim world.


In a speech at a German university the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," declaring Islam was a religion spread by the sword.

The murder of father Paulos was described by at least one priest as "the final blow for Christians" in Iraq amid growing Islamic violence against them. "Now only hell is expected for the Christians of Iraq," said priest Adris Hanna from Sweden, who has
been working in the region.

"Christians are living a terrified life in [the cities of] Mosul and Baghdad. Several priests have been kidnapped, girls are being raped and murdered and a couple of days ago a fourteen year old boy was crucified in the Christian neighborhood Albasra," he said in comments released by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).


"I have also spoken to a group of nuns that were robbed and treated brutally on their way between Baghdad to Amman in Jordan," he added. The bloodshed came shortly after last week, October 4, a bomb ripped through a Christian neighborhood in Baghdad, killing 9 Assyrian Christians, AINA said. It was also one of the deadliest single attacks since the start of the war directed at Assyrian Christians.

Among the victims was Georges Zara was an active member of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac National Council in Baghdad, AINA said. There have been more deadly attacks carried out by Islamic groups against churches and Christian areas in recent weeks, including several car bomb attacks, several sources said.

The violence has added to anxiety among Iraqi Christians. An estimated 190,000 Iraqi Christians have already moved to Syria since 2003, settling mostly in Aleppo and Damascus, while another 195,000 have moved to Jordan, including 45,000 just this year, according to estimates.

The number of Iraqi Christians still in their homeland now total little more than 200,000, the conservative WorldNetDaily website quoted officials as saying, although other observers say that figure may be higher. There were roughly 1.5 million Christians before 1990, and around 750,000 Christians when the war began. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians are believed to be displaced within Iraq. (With BosNewsLife Monitoring, BosNewsLife Research and reports from Iraq).

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