05/19/2008, 00.00
IRAQ

Iraqi bishops against death penalty for Archbishop Rahho's killer

Death sentence for Ahmad Ali Ahmad, a member of al-Qaeda involved in the kidnapping and killing of the bishop of Mosul in March. Bishop Warduni and Archbishop Sako recall that the Church is inspired by forgiveness and reconciliation. But the event still remains shrouded in mystery.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - "If Archbishop Rahho himself were still alive, he would not accept that someone should have to die for him.  Let us remember that the principles that have always inspired the Church in Iraq are those of forgiveness and reconciliation". Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, spoke to AsiaNews about the death sentence for Ahmad Ali Ahmad, a leading al-Qaeda militant involved in the kidnapping and assassination in March of the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.  Bishop Warduni went to Mosul and followed the entire affair in person, until its tragic conclusion on March 13.  The Chaldean  archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, also takes care to emphasise the Church's aversion to capital punishment: "Violence must not call forth more violence! We are in favour of justice, but not of capital punishment", he told AsiaNews.

News of the death sentence was given yesterday by the spokesman of the central government, Ali al-Dabbagh.  This sentence was handed down by the central criminal tribunal, but the date the execution is not yet known.  The authorities have not provided any more details on the case.  The outlines of the entire affair are still vague and unclear. For example, nothing is known about the circumstances of the arrest; about the motive for the kidnapping of the archbishop (money, religious fanaticism?); about the accomplices of Ahmad Ali Ahmad; about why the other crimes certainly committed in Iraq by the al-Qaeda member are not mentioned, but only the assassination of Rahho. There is also silence on the status of the investigation opened following the discovery of the archbishop's body on the outskirts of Mosul on March 13, after 14 days of captivity.  Some Christians in Baghdad emphasise that the television has still not even shown the face of the terrorist, who is also known by the name of Abu Omar.

Operation "Lion's Roar"

The sentencing of Abu Omar comes during what the Baghdad government has dubbed "the final offensive" against al-Qaeda and the criminal gangs established in Mosul.  The operation, with the code name "Lion's Roar", was launched by the Iraqi forces last May 10, with the support of the United States.

The city, which is Iraq's third largest, is also the urban stronghold of terrorism in the country, and now the government seems determined to take back definitive control of the area. On May 17, after four days of sweeps, at least 1,100 suspected Islamic extremists were arrested; 1,400 kilograms of explosives were confiscated, 45 missiles of various dimensions, 263 mortar rounds, and 175 weapons of various kinds. "The situation is better", witnesses from the area say, "there is a curfew from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., and fortunately there have been no clashes so far, nor civilian casualties".

Bishop Warduni, who confirms the "improvement in security in Mosul", adds: "Let us ask and pray to the Lord that he give us the peace and security that we need".

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