Work is continuing for the release of two Catholic priests kidnapped in northern Iraq last week. Unconfirmed reports say that contact has been made with their captors, but that initial attempts to secure their release apparently foundered.
In a statement released yesterday, church group Middle East Concern (MEC) declared: "It appears that agreement was reached for their release, leading to reports of their having been released. However, the kidnappers subsequently withdrew from the agreement and demanded a larger ransom."
The Rev Pius Affas and the Rev Mazen Ishoa, both Iraqis, were kidnapped in Mosul on Saturday 13 October 2007 by an unknown group, and Pope Benedict XVI subsequently made an appeal for their release.
Syrian Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa has been involved in efforts to free Father Affas, who is in his 60s, and Father Ishoa, who is 35.
Father Affas is originally from Mosul, a location of the Sunni insurgency, while Father Ishoa is from a Christian village south of the city, according to the MEC.
Middle east Concern says that the two priests had received a letter two months ago warning them that the church would be attacked if they did not leave.