The Associated Press
Published: October 12, 2006
MOSUL, Iraq Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped and found beheaded three days later said Thursday that his captors had demanded his church condemn the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a US$350,000 (�280,000) ransom.
More than 500 people attended a memorial service Thursday for father Amer Iskender in the northern city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found Wednesday evening in an industrial area of the city.
Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul.
"He was a good man and we all shed tears for him," said Eman Saaur, a 45-year-old schoolteacher who said she attended Iskender's church regularly. "He was a man of peace."
Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the unidentified group that seized Iskender on Sunday had demanded a ransom and that his church condemn a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI last month that ignited a wave anger throughout the Muslim world. In a speech at a German university the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," declaring Islam was a religion spread by the sword.
Before Iskender was kidnapped, his relatives said, the church already had put up signs condemning the statement and calling for good relations between Christians and Muslims. The message was posted again, they said, after the priest's kidnappers made their demand.
"It was a tragedy," said Hazim Shaaiya, 60, who had come to the memorial service to pay respects. "Father Amer Iskender was a peaceful, kind religious man."
Relatives said the priest's oldest son had been in contact with the kidnappers on mobile telephones. He negotiated the ransom payment down to US$40,000 (�32,000) and had agreed to pay, but contact abruptly ceased Tuesday night.