An Anglican vicar who was working to secure the release of five British hostages in Iraq fled the country on July 11 after being denounced as a spy.
Canon Andrew White, who ran Iraq’s only Anglican church, left Baghdad for London amid fears for his safety, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported.
The five Britons’ abductors reportedly threatened to kill them unless the vicar stopped trying to find them. The captives, four security guards and a consultant were abducted on May 29 from the finance ministry in Baghdad. They were seized by insurgents disguised as Iraqi police.
Mr. White left Baghdad after pamphlets dropped in Shia areas of the Iraqi capital reportedly branded the vicar as “no more than a spy,” the BBC said. The priest was based at St. George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad.
The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, of which Mr. White is executive director, confirmed he had left Iraq because of a “serious security threat.”
Meanwhile, Mr. White recently testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that conditions were worsening for Baghdad’s last small group of eight Jews. Associated Press reported that Mr. White, who watches over the tiny group, says they are increasingly desperate and want to leave Iraq for the Netherlands.
“In the last three or four months things have deteriorated very considerably,” he said, according to a transcript of the commission’s July 25 proceedings. “I personally think they should all leave, because they have no future, no security, no ability to survive at the moment.”
But Israeli, Dutch and Jewish officials dispute Mr. White’s claims that the Jews want to leave.
Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem which is responsible for immigration, said none of the eight Jews left in Baghdad has expressed a desire to leave. “They survived under Saddam Hussein, and there is no need for them at their late age to pack up and move to different surroundings,” he said. Half of them are over 80 years old, and the others are of working age.