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Gunmen kidnap Iraqi Chaldean archbishop

Gunmen kidnapped the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul on Friday in the northern Iraqi city and killed his driver and two companions, police said.
/ Source: Reuters

Gunmen kidnapped the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul on Friday in the northern Iraqi city and killed his driver and two companions, police said.

"He was kidnapped in the al-Nour district in eastern Mosul when he left a church. Gunmen opened fire on the car, killed the other three and kidnapped the archbishop," said provincial police spokesman Brigadier-General Khaled Abdul Sattar.

An assistant to Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad and spiritual leader of Iraq's Catholics, said they had heard that three people had been killed and they did not know the fate of the archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho.

Christian clergy targeted
A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped or killed, and churches bombed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Last June gunmen murdered Catholic priest Ragheed Aziz Kani and three assistants in Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad, after stopping his car near a church in the eastern part of the city.

The assailants dragged out the priest and his assistants and shot them dead in an attack that was condemned by Pope Benedict.

A former Archbishop of Mosul, Basile Georges Casmoussa, was kidnapped at gunpoint in 2005, but was released after one day of captivity and said no ransom was paid.

Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practices an ancient Eastern rite. Most of its members are in Iraq and Syria, and they form the biggest Christian community in Iraq.

Christians make up about 3 percent of Iraq's 27 million, mostly Muslim, population. According to a 1987 census there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, but the number now is thought to have fallen below one million.

While violence across much of Iraq has fallen in recent months, U.S. and Iraqi officials say that Mosul is the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida, which they identify as the biggest threat to the country's security.