Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul.
MOSUL, IRAQ: Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, may not have been murdered by his kidnappers, according to new information provided by the Iraqi military. Rahho appears to have died of natural causes while he was held hostage by terrorists demanding millions of dollars for his release.
“The archbishop was left dead in Intisar five days ago,” Colonel Hage Alzebari, the intelligence chief for 2nd Iraqi Army Division told The Long War Journal at Combat Outpost Power in Mosul on March 14. “There were no signs of torture. We believe he died of a heart attack, of natural causes.”
The Iraqi Army’s assessment matches a report from the SIR Catholic news agency, which indicated the archbishop died of illness just prior to being left in a shallow grave in eastern Mosul. “The kidnappers told Iraqi church officials on Wednesday that Archbishop Rahho was very ill and, later on the same day, that he was dead,” according to the BBC report.
But Rahho’s death was likely caused by his kidnapping, US and Iraqi military officers said. Intelligence reports indicated Rahho was moved from safe house to safe house in order to evade the Army and police dragnets. The stress of the kidnapping, the constant movement, and the poor living conditions is believed to have contributed to his death.
The Intisar neighborhood, where Rahho’s body was discovered in a shallow grave on March 13, borders the Al Noor neighborhood. The Iraqi Army conducted extensive searches for the archbishop and the kidnapping ring in Al Noor over the past week.
The US Embassy in Baghdad and Multinational Forces Iraq directly blamed al Qaeda in Iraq for the archbishop’s death in a statement released on March 14. “His demise at the hands of al-Qaeda in Iraq is one more savage attempt by a barbaric enemy to sow strife and discord in Iraq.” Al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted barbarous attacks against Shia, Kurds, Sunni, Yazidis, Christians, and other ethnic groups in an attempt to divide Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups.
Rahho was kidnapped after conducting mass on Feb. 29. Terrorists killed his three-man security detail and pushed him in a trunk. The initial ransom was set at $3 million, Hage said in a briefing on March 10, but the archbishop of Baghdad was advised not to pay it. The kidnappers later reduced the ransom to $1 million, but also demanded the release of seven members of the kidnapping ring captured by Iraqi security forces in Mosul.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.