Catholic archbishop freed
The Archbishop of Mosul has been freed 24 hours after being kidnapped at gunpoint, the Vatican has confirmed.
Pope John Paul II, who had prayed for the release of Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, was informed straight away of the release, said Joaquin Navarro-Vallsm, the papal spokesman.
The Vatican said a ransom of the equivalent of £106,000 had been demanded just minutes before his release, but that the 66-year-old archbishop was released without payment being made.
The kidnapping took place in Mosul, where Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, of the Syrian Catholic Church, was seized by gunmen while walking in front of his church, a priest said on condition of anonymity.
He said the kidnappers then tossed him into the boot of their vehicle before speeding away.
According to reports from Baghdad, the Archbishop had been outside his church in Mosul's eastern neighbourhood of Muhandeseen.
An Iraqi, he is leader of the northern city's 35,000 Syrian Catholics and was appointed archbishop in 1999.
No group claimed responsibility, but the Vatican had immediately condemned the abduction.
ìThe Holy See deplores in the firmest way such a terrorist act,î a Vatican statement said, asking that he be freed immediately.
Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, with an estimated 3% of the population identified as Christian.
Under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi church was protected from religious persecution. Since the invasion, churches have lived under constant fear with a number of attacks recorded against Christians and church buildings, with a number of murders.
Church aid agencies have also at times been forced to pull out of the country.
Talks between religious leaders have been unable to prevent the violence.
Officials estimate that as many as 15,000 Iraqi Christians have left the country since the beginning of August, when churches in Baghdad and in Mosul were attacked in a coordinated series of car bombings.