Killer of archbishop receives death penalty despite church opposition

By staff writers
May 22, 2008

An al-Qaeda leader in Iraq has been sentenced to death for the killing of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho - despite the church's opposition to the death penalty.

The Iraqi government said the criminal court had imposed the death sentence on Ahmed Ali Ahmed, known as Abu Omar.

The archbishop of Mosul, who was 65, was kidnapped in February by gunmen who attacked his car, killing his driver and two bodyguards. His body was found in a shallow grave two weeks later.

The US Embassy in Baghdad welcomed the sentence, saying in a statement: "Reiterating our condolences to the archbishop's family and community, we commend the Iraqi authorities for bringing the perpetrator of this brutal crime to justice."

But the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako said the death penalty against the convicted killer would not help improve the situation in Iraq.

Sako also said that the Iraqi Government did not inform Chaldean church leaders of the decision. Instead they were informed by media. He said that they still didn't know why the archbishop was kidnapped, - whether it was due to political, religious or criminal intentions.

Archbishop Rahho was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. There have been many attacks on churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians. Kidnappings by Sunni and Shia groups, as well as criminal gangs, have been common.

The Chaldeans are the largest church within Iraq's ancient Christian community, which was estimated at 800,000 before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Thousands have now fled abroad.

The wider Catholic church, to which it is related, has a long-standing opposition to the death penalty, and has campaigned against it.

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