By: André Stiefenhofer and John Newton
The decapitated body of a Christian man has been discovered in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, a few days after he was kidnapped. Ashur Yacob Issa, 29, was abducted late Friday night or early Saturday morning (13 or 14 May) and his mutilated body was discovered last Monday morning (16 May).
His family had been asked for a ransom but was not able to pay the sum of more than £61,500 the kidnappers demanded.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk condemned the killing, and went on to pay tribute to the strength and faith of his community despite the continuing threat of violence.
Archbishop Sako said: “In all these years, I have never heard of a single Christian converting to Islam, despite the many threats.”
He added that Muslims regularly go to his church seeking to convert, but he added: “I am not allowed to baptise them. There is no religious freedom!”
Speaking to Catholic News Agency Zenit, Archbishop Sako also appealed “to those who were capable of committing such an inhuman act” to remember Mr Issa’s widow and the children they orphaned. He said: “If there is no human justice, sooner or later, there will be divine justice.”
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who visited the UK in March to launch Aid to the Church in Need’s report on Christian persecution, told the charity: “The murder was meant to intimidate Christians so that in the future they will more readily pay ransom demands.”
Archbishop Warda suspected Islamist fundamentalists were behind the recent act of violence and called on Muslim clerics to make clear to their faithful that such murders are crimes against humanity. He said: “It is unacceptable that in some mosques hatred towards other faiths is still preached.”
However Syrian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul told Aid to the Church in Need that he thought the motive for the violence in the country was not primarily religious. He suggested that it was driven by criminal gangs trying to make money, adding that some radical political movements were willing to use criminals – “Some even say the criminals are paid by the parties.”
A delegation from Aid to the Church in Need is currently in Iraq evaluating the situation of the Church there. Speaking with Iraqi Christians, they found that many of them question the value of interreligious dialogue with Muslims.
One priest said “The Muslims speak to us constantly about a ‘peaceful coexistence’, but then when something happens, violence does not seem to be condemned by Muslim clerics.”
According to Archbishop Warda since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 up to 573 Christians have been killed in religiously and politically motivated attacks. He also stated that 66 churches have been attacked or bombed as well as two convents, a monastery and a church-run orphanage.
Hundreds of Christian families fled to the north at the end of 2010 after the attack on Baghdad’s Syrian Catholic Cathedral on 31 October where 58 people were killed and more than 70 others injured.