A leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq has been sentenced to death for the killing of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

The archbishop of the northern city of Mosul was kidnapped in February by gunmen who attacked his car, killing his driver and two bodyguards.

His body was found in a shallow grave two weeks later.

The Iraqi government said the criminal court had imposed the death sentence on Ahmed Ali Ahmed, known as Abu Omar.

The US embassy in Baghdad welcomed the verdict.

Reiterating our condolences to the archbishop’s family and community, we commend the Iraqi authorities for bringing the perpetrator of this brutal crime to justice,” a statement said.

In the past, the government of Nouri Maliki has been accused by Iraq’s Christian minority of not doing enough to protect them from persecution, the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt reports from Baghdad.

Churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians have been attacked repeatedly. Kidnappings by Sunni and Shia groups, as well as criminal gangs, have been common since the US-led invasion in 2003. Many Christians have fled abroad.

The archbishop, 65, was the latest in a long line of Chaldean clerics to be abducted in Iraq.

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