Iraqi priest’s beheading linked with Pope’s comments re Islam, says family

.- Relatives of an Orthodox priest in Iraq, who was kidnapped and found beheaded three days later, said Thursday that his death was linked with the recent violence spurred on by those who misinterpreted Pope Benedict's recent comments about Islam.

Family members said his captors had demanded that his church condemn the Pope's comments last month about Islam and pay a US$350,000 ransom, reported The Associated Press.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service Thursday for Fr. Amer Iskender in the northern city of Mosul. His decapitated body had been found the previous day in an industrial area of the city.

Fr. Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church and he was remembered as a kind and peaceful man.

Before Iskender was kidnapped, the church already had put up signs condemning the statement and calling for good relations between Christians and Muslims, said his relatives, who asked not to be named. The message was posted again after the priest's kidnappers made their demand, reported the AP.

Relatives said the priest's oldest son had been in contact with the kidnappers on mobile telephones. He negotiated the ransom payment down to US$40,000 and had agreed to pay, but contact abruptly ceased Tuesday night.

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