VATICAN CITY, JAN. 18, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Syrian-Catholic archbishop of Mosul in Iraq says that he was kidnapped by mistake, and that his captors changed their mind when they realized who he was.
“I am happy to have returned to the Archdiocesan Palace, where many friends and faithful awaited me,” Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa told Vatican Radio after his release today. “I thank God for this experience.”
“In general, I can say that I was not mistreated,” the 66-year-old prelate said. “The kidnappers were very kind to me. As soon as they realized I was a bishop, their attitude changed and they released me at midday — before the set time — without a ransom.”
The Catholic Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Rahho, told the Missionary Service News Agency that the kidnappers initially asked for a $200,000 ransom. They then decided to waive the ransom and set Archbishop Casmoussa free.
The prelate was seized Monday by gunmen who forced him into a car, after he made a pastoral visit to a family in Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls said that the prelate is “much loved both by Christians as well as Muslims.”
Archbishop Casmoussa said of his kidnappers: “I was very direct with them; I answered their questions in a calm manner. And they behaved well.”
The archbishop added that his kidnappers told him this morning that “the Pope had also appealed for his liberation. I answered: ‘Thank God.'”
The prelate believes that his abduction was a “coincidence,” as “in this period, kidnappings are very numerous in these parts. But it is only my personal opinion. From the conversations I had with them, it did not seem to me that they wanted to attack the Church as such.”
Regarding the holding of elections on Jan. 30, the archbishop said that, given the insecurity in Iraq, “It is not the appropriate moment. First of all, we are in need of security and reconciliation.”
In statements on Vatican Radio, a Dominican priest in Mosul, Father Mikhael Najib, said that with the archbishop’s abduction, “perhaps they wished to pressure the Christians of Mosul.”
“There are many Kurds and parties favorable to Syria in the area,” he said. “Arabs, Muslims, in particular the mujahedin, want to pressure Christians to expel the Kurds.”
For his part, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Baghdad, said that he was not sure if the kidnapping “was a real terrorist act, in view of the elections, or if it was a common criminal act, to ask for ransom.”
The prelate’s kidnapping is added to other acts of violence committed against Iraqi Catholics and to attacks on several churches in Mosul and Baghdad over the past months.