Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in March 2008
Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in March 2008 (World Watch Monitor)

The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, who was murdered by militias in 2008, paid protection money to safeguard his clergy for years before his kidnapping and death, an aide has told World Watch Monitor.

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was abducted in February 2008 from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, which was then a stronghold of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which developed into the group known as Islamic State, whose occupation of the city has just entered its third year. The archbishop’s body was found two weeks later after the Chaldean Church and his relatives refused to pay a ransom. He is the highest-ranking cleric to be killed by Al-Qaeda or its offshoots.

A lay former staff member said Archbishop Rahho “was pushed to pay jiyza monthly for Christians who lived in Mosul. They used to send Archbishop Rahho a list of names of priests and how much they wanted for them.”

The Qur’an in Sura 9:29 stipulates that Christians and Jews in Muslim-controlled lands be subjected to paying the jiyza tax, but does not specify how much should be charged. This was practised during the Ottoman Empire and has been revived more aggressively by militias since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Archbishop Rahho with other priests in his diocese
Archbishop Rahho with other priests in his diocese (Aid to the Church in Need)

The aide, who cannot be named and has since fled Iraq, said the extortion went on between 2005 and 2008. Asked how the archbishop afforded the jiyza, he said: “I don’t know. He did it because he had to, but he had no money of his own.”

The aide added that after the archbishop’s abduction, the Church had had to pay US$50,000 to be told the eventual location of his body.

The aide last saw the archbishop three hours before his abduction. Rahho went to say Mass at the city’s Holy Spirit Church, whose priest, Fr. Ragheed Ghanni, the archbishop’s secretary, had been murdered eight months earlier. “[Rahho] was not jokey and chatty as normal. He didn’t want that church to be closed [after Ghanni’s death], he didn’t want those people to be lost. Those people were his people.”

Two security guards and the archbishop’s driver were killed in the gunfight during which the archbishop was abducted, but the aide said the driver, who was armed, shot dead two militants before he died.

The aide said Rahho had been “a father to everyone. He made no distinction between Muslims and Christians.”