Worldwide Christian Community Shocked as Priest Beheaded in Iraq

The Christian community has been dismayed to learn that the beheaded and dismembered body of Father Boulos Iskander, 59, a Syrian Orthodox priest, was found in a suburb of Mosul, Iraq last week.

|PIC1|Christian Solidarity Worldwide has told Christian Today that Father Iskander was abducted from Mosul on Monday afternoon, according to reports from Compass Direct and Middle East Concern.

His family was later contacted by the kidnappers, demanding a US$350,000 ransom. They subsequently agreed to reduce the sum to US$40,000 if the priest's church was willing to publicly reject remarks made about Islam by Pope Benedict XVI last month.

The St Ephram parish church subsequently posted 30 large signs around Mosul separating itself from the Pope's comments and the family managed to raise the ransom money. However, Father Iskander was discovered the next day and his remains were brought to a local hospital.

Open Doors UK, an international charity serving persecuted Christians in 60 countries, had warned at the beginning of this month of a sharp upturn in violence against Christians in Iraq. The surge in attacks has coincided with the Muslim festival of Ramadan, with many commentators saying that Pope Benedict's inflammatory remarks have ignited an explosive atmosphere.

Since Pope Benedict offended the Muslim community worldwide with his comments in September, he has publicly announced that he regrets any offence caused and expressed his "deep respect" for Islam.

However, an upturn in violence in various areas of the Muslim world have been reported.

CSW's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, says: "We are appalled to hear of such an atrocity and our thoughts and prayers are with Father Iskander's family, church and friends. We call upon the Iraqi authorities to do their best to protect Christians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and urge all religious communities in Iraq to exercise tolerance and restraint towards one another".