WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush on Thursday denounced the "murder" of an abducted Chaldean Catholic archbishop in Iraq, despite uncertainty about how he died, and condemned recent violence there.
"I send my condolences to the Chaldean community and the people of Iraq," Bush said in a statement on the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. "I deplore the despicable act of violence committed against the Archbishop."
"The terrorists will continue to lose in Iraq because they are savage and cruel. Their utter disregard for human life, demonstrated by this murder and by recent suicide attacks against innocent Iraqis in Baghdad and innocent pilgrims celebrating a religious holiday, is turning the Iraqi people against them."
"We will continue to work with the Iraqi government to protect and support civilians, irrespective of religious affiliation," vowed the US president.
The body of Rahho, who was abducted February 29, was found in northern Iraq on Thursday, sparking outrage from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and world leaders and an expression of deep sadness from Pope Benedict XVI.
A report from Rome had said the body had been found in a grave near the city after the kidnappers telephoned the auxiliary archbishop of Baghdad, Shlemon Warduni.
"We still don't know whether he died from his poor health or was killed," Warduni said. "The kidnappers only told us that he was dead."
Raban al-Qas, the head of the Chaldean church in Iraq's northern Kurdish region, said there was no trace of any bullet wounds in Rahho's body.
However, it had not yet been determined whether the archbishop had been tortured to death, he said.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We're deeply saddened to hear those reports. This is a terrible and tragic act of terrorism, in particular for the Chaldean community.
"And our thoughts and prayers go out to the archbishop's family, as well as to the entire Chaldean community," McCormack told reporters.
Rahho, 65, was kidnapped after a shootout in which three of his companions were killed.
The Italian Roman Catholic Church's SIR news agency, quoting Warduni, said the kidnappers had telephoned to say that Rahho, who was in poor health, had died and that they had buried him.
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