TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - A top U.S. general in Iraq said on Wednesday he believed the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, kidnapped last week, was being held for ransom, but was not confident he would be freed alive.
“No. He could easily be killed, and that would be really unfortunate,” said Major-General Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
Paulos Faraj Rahho, was seized last Friday after gunmen attacked his car in eastern Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, killing his driver and two guards.
Pope Benedict condemned the kidnapping and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the Interior Ministry to make finding him a top priority.
Iraqi special forces and U.S. troops are now hunting for the archbishop, said Hertling, speaking on the sidelines of a conference in the Iraqi city of Tikrit.
He said it was not clear who was behind the kidnapping, but he did not rule out al Qaeda in Iraq, which has regrouped in Mosul and other areas of Nineveh province after being pushed out of Baghdad and western Anbar province.
“It could either be a criminal act for money or a terrorist act to raise money because they’re running low on funds,” he told Reuters and one other agency in an interview.
“I think it’s an act that is sectarian in nature by an organization that’s trying to raise money.”
Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practices an ancient Eastern rite. Most of its members are in Iraq and Syria and they form the biggest Christian community in Iraq.
Christians make up about 3 percent of Iraq’s 27 million, mostly Muslim, population and have come under attack on a number of occasions since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Reporting by Michael Holden; Writing by Ross Colvin