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Kidnapped

"Kidnapped" Continued...

Issue: "Is Romney rolling?," May 19, 2007

Five months ago, St. Peter's Seminary and Babel College, which serve Iraq's Chaldean Christian community, closed their joint Baghdad campus and relocated to northern Iraq outside the city of Irbil after the third kidnapping of a staff member in five months. One victim, Chaldean priest Douglas Yusuf al-Bazy, had finished conducting mass at St. Elijah's parish and was driving on Baghdad's al-Kanat highway when four cars surrounded his vehicle and forced him to pull over on a Sunday morning last November. He was blindfolded at gunpoint and pushed into the trunk of his car, he told Compass Direct news service.

Eventually he wound up in an insurgent safehouse in a Baghdad neighborhood, where his captors turned up the television volume before they questioned and tortured him. They beat him with a hammer, kicked him until teeth fell out, and burned his mustache with cigarettes. Most of the time he was bound and blindfolded, and received little food and water. Released after nine days, he required hospital care in Baghdad and eventually went to Italy for reconstructive surgery.

Whether kidnap victims are targeted or part of random roundups, terrorist groups have developed methods to the kidnapping madness. Those who have been released say their captors are in constant communication with other cells and higher-ups. Bernosh said his captors spent hours on cell phones discussing with superiors who among his group should be killed. Christian Science Monitor journalist Jill Carroll, held hostage for nearly three months last year, testified to a command structure surrounding her abduction so well organized it was nearly bureaucratic.

U.S. forces killed one of her captors, Muharib Abdul-Latif al Jubouri, a spokesman for the Sunni militant umbrella group Islamic State of Iraq, earlier this month. He also was linked to the 2006 kidnapping and shooting of three workers, including American Tom Fox, from Christian Peacemakers Teams.

Iraq's Christian community finds itself particularly vulnerable to organized, militant kidnappers. Al-Bazy says he believes he was targeted for kidnapping because he is regarded as part of a community seen as intellectual, not easily intimidated, and in some cases closely tied with the West. Shiites and Sunnis may be fighting each other in Iraq, said regional church leader Sami Dagher, "but keep in mind, we are hated by both."

Dagher, president of the Alliance Church of Lebanon and director of a humanitarian relief center serving Iraq, said the intimidation of Christians in Iraq is working. The CMA church in Baghdad at one time was the largest and fastest-growing church in the city, with 800 people attending its Sunday morning service in war time. Now attendance has dropped to about 400.

In Baghdad's Dora district, home to historic churches and some predominantly Christian neighborhoods, seven churches have either shut down completely or reduced services to about once a month. Islamist groups have gone door to door to evict Christian families. They blackmail them to pay an exorbitant tax, to become Muslims, or to leave, said Dagher.

As a result, many Christian families across Iraq are leaving. Of approximately 1.2 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, Dagher believes the majority are Christians.

For that and other reasons the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom took the unusual step earlier this month of putting Iraq on its watch list of countries that violate religious freedom. The commission stopped just short of labeling it among the worst perpetrators of persecution-a designation it has not received since the days of Saddam Hussein and one that could lead to U.S. economic sanctions. Dagher said such a move would be wrong and could lead to further harm against Christians: "Persecution of Christians in Iraq does not come from the government. By law the Christians can worship freely. Persecution comes from the fanatics."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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