The body of a Chaldean Catholic archbishop who was kidnapped in Iraq last month was found in a shallow grave in the northern city of Mosul yesterday.
Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Archbishop of Mosul, was abducted on 29 February after gunmen attacked his car and killed his driver and two guards.
Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, blamed Archbishop Rahho's death on al-Qa'ida and said his Shia Islamist-led government was committed to protecting Christians, who make up about 3 per cent of the population in mostly Muslim Iraq. "The perpetrators of this horrible crime will not run from the hand of justice," Mr Maliki said.
Pope Benedict, who made several appeals for the archbishop's freedom, called Archbishop Rahho's death "an act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human being" in a letter to Iraqi church leaders.
Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church and form the biggest Christian community in Iraq. "I deplore the despicable act of violence committed against the Archbishop of Mosul," said President George Bush. "We will continue to work with the Iraqi government to protect and support civilians, irrespective of religious affiliation."
Police said it was not clear whether Archbishop Rahho, 65, had been killed or had died from other causes. He appeared to have been dead for a week and there were no bullet wounds.
Residents spotted the half-buried body in al-Entisa district, a neighbourhood notorious for al-Qa'ida linked insurgents.