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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 12:17 GMT
Kidnapped Iraqi archbishop freed
Archbishop Casmoussa
Calls had been growing for the archbishop to be released
A prominent Iraqi Christian clergyman, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, has been freed a day after gunmen snatched him from the streets of Mosul.

The archbishop was "on his way home" with no ransom paid, a church official told the Associated Press news agency.

Reports earlier on Tuesday said the archbishop's captors wanted a $200,000 (107,000) ransom for his release.

Gunmen bundled the Syrian Catholic archbishop into a car on Monday, sparking condemnation from the Vatican.

The Vatican had described the abduction as a "despicable terrorist act" and called for his immediate release.

Upon learning that the archbishop had been freed, Pope John Paul II had "changed his prayer to one of thanks", papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Earlier on Tuesday, church officials in Mosul were quoted as saying the archbishop's abductors had demanded $200,000 in exchange for releasing him.

An official who had spoken to the archbishop by telephone quoted him as saying he had not been harmed by his captors.

Insurgent hotbed

The Christian community has come under increasing pressure from insurgents in Mosul.

SYRIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
File photograph of a Catholic church in Mosul
Observes the Liturgy of St James, performed in Syriac, though certain readings are in Arabic
Practised mostly in Iraq and Lebanon
In communion with Roman Catholic church since the 17th century

Over recent months, churches have been burned and congregations intimidated.

However, Mr Navarro-Valls said the Vatican did not regard the archbishop's abduction as a crime against Christians, but rather a symptom of the violence and instability in many parts of Iraq.

Mosul is a hotbed of insurgent activity where dozens of people accused of collaborating with American-led forces have been abducted and killed.

It is also home to tens of thousands of Christians, part of a community that, across Iraq, makes up some 3% of the total population of about 25 million.

Since the US-led assault on Iraq in 2003, more than 10,000 Christians are estimated to have fled rising persecution in the country.

The Syrian Catholic church belongs to the Eastern rite of Catholicism.

It is one of a number of semi-autonomous Catholic churches in the Middle East, which pledge allegiance to the Pope in Rome but enjoy a degree of independence in their religious rites.




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