November 30, 2007 / 3:43 PM / 11 years ago

Kidnapped priest released in southeast Turkey

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A Syriac Christian priest kidnapped this week in southeast Turkey was released unharmed on Friday.

“The priest was released in good condition...,” Batman province Deputy Governor Aziz Mercan told Reuters.

Television images showed the bearded man wiping tears from his eyes and embracing security personnel.

Unknown assailants ambushed Daniel Savci’s car on Wednesday as the 55-year-old priest was traveling to the Mor Yakup monastery near the town of Midyat. The kidnappers were reported to have sought a ransom of 300,000 euros ($442,400).

“Given the information obtained from the priest, we now know who the perpetrators are, and security forces are tracking them down now,” said Mercan, who did not give the suspects’ names.

Savci said his three abductors were men in their 20s and they kidnapped him for ransom money, said Osman Uner, a friend of Savci’s who met the priest after his release.

An official said the kidnapping was not religiously motivated.

“There is no ideological organization at work, this was a completely economically motivated crime,” said Mercan.

Most of Turkey’s 75 million people are Muslim and it has barely 100,000 Christians, mostly of Greek and Armenian origin. The Syriacs are an ancient community that still speaks Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

Turkey’s Christian community has been targeted in a spate of recent attacks that have worried the government, human rights groups and the European Union, which Ankara hopes to join.

Three Christians, two Turks and a German, had their throats slit by youths who burst into their Bible publishing house in the southeastern town of Malatya in April.

Turkish Armenian writer Hrant Dink was murdered in Istanbul in January by a young nationalist gunman and an Italian Catholic priest was killed in his church by a youth in Trabzon in 2006.

Reporting by Thomas Grove, Daren Butler and Seyhmus Cakan

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