VATICAN CITY – A Catholic archbishop kidnapped in Iraq was released Tuesday without payment of ransom, the Vatican said. The prelate said his kidnappers didn't realize who he was when they abducted him a day earlier in the northern city of Mosul.
Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa (search) was back resting in his home shortly after his 19-hour-long kidnapping ended and told Vatican Radio he had not been mistreated.
"I suspected that they kidnapped me thinking I was another person," Casmoussa told reporters in Mosul. "They were kind with me and told me that I will be released very soon."
It was not immediately clear if Casmoussa was wearing clerical garb when he was captured just after he came out of the home of a parishioner Monday evening in Mosul (search).
Casmoussa was quoted as telling the Italian news agency ANSA that he thought Pope John Paul II's (search) strong appeal on his behalf was a "decisive factor" in his release. The Vatican had called the abduction a "despicable terrorist act" and demanded that the kidnappers free him immediately.
"I am truly, and, like a son, grateful to the pope, by whom I felt strongly supported in this very new situation for me," Casmoussa was quoted as telling ANSA. "The kidnappers themselves told me this morning about his appeal, which I maintain was a decisive factor in my liberation."
The pontiff, who had prayed for the bishop's release, was informed immediately of the good news, said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "He changed his prayer to one of thanks," he said.
The kidnappers initially demanded a $200,000 ransom but then released the bishop without any payment, the Vatican said.
Casmoussa, a 66-year-old Iraqi, is from the Syrian Catholic Church (search), one of the branches of the Roman Catholic Church.
A priest in Iraq said on condition of anonymity that the archbishop was walking in front of the Al-Bishara church in Mosul's eastern neighborhood of Muhandeseen when gunmen forced him into a car and drove away.
Mosul, in Iraq's north, has been a hotspot for the violent insurgency in recent months.
"I think that my kidnapping was a coincidence," the archbishop told Vatican Radio. "It doesn't seem to me that they wanted to strike at the Church per se."
Navarro-Valls said the Vatican didn't view the kidnapping as an anti-Christian act but part of the general climate of violence in Iraq. He said the archbishop was well-loved in the community.
Nevertheless, Christians — tens of thousands of whom live in and around Mosul — have been subjected to attacks in the past.
Officials estimate that as many as 15,000 Iraqi Christians have left the country since August, when four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were attacked in a coordinated series of car bombings. The attacks killed 12 people and injured 61 others.
Another church was bombed in Baghdad in September.
Christians make up just 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The major Christian groups in Iraq include Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians. There are small numbers of Roman Catholics.