Kidnapped Iraqi archbishop dead

Mosul, Iraq - An archbishop seized by gunmen last month in Iraq has been found dead.

The body of Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, was found in a shallow grave close to the city.

Pope Benedict XVI said he was profoundly moved and saddened, calling the archbishop's death an act of inhuman violence.

Archbishop Rahho was kidnapped not long after he left mass in Mosul, in northern Iraq, on 29 February.

According to the SIR Catholic news agency, the kidnappers told Iraqi church officials on Wednesday that Archbishop Rahho was very ill and, later on the same day, that he was dead.

However, Iraqi police say the condition of the archbishop's body suggests that he may have died at least a week ago.

It is not clear whether he was killed, or died of natural causes. Nobody has claimed responsibility for his death.

The archbishop's body was found by church workers who went to the area after being contacted by the kidnappers.

'Horrible crime'

The archbishop, 65, was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Three people who were with him at the time, a driver and two guards, were killed by the gunmen.

Only last Sunday, Pope Benedict had appealed for the archbishop's release.

A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said: "The most absurd and unjustified violence continues to afflict the Iraqi people and in particular the small Christian community, whom the Pope holds in his prayers in this time of deep sadness.

"This tragic event underscored once more and with more urgency the duty of all, and in particular of the international community, to bring peace to a country that has been so tormented."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said those behind the kidnapping would not escape justice.

It was, he said, a "horrible crime" by "a criminal, terrorist gang".

The Chaldeans are the largest sect within Iraq's Christian community, which was estimated at 800,000 before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Many have left their homes after attacks linked to the continuing insurgency.

Baghdad blast

Earlier on Wednesday, a car bomb in the capital Baghdad killed at least 12 people, and injured dozens more.

Police said the bomb was in a car parked in Tahrir Square, a central commercial district just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses much of the Iraqi government and the US embassy.

The attack is the latest in a series in Baghdad, following several months of relative calm.