Abductions took place from same town as missing priest
Up to 160 Christians are believed to have been kidnapped from a town in Syria and are being held in an unknown location.
The kidnapping was part of a larger operation when the Islamic State captured the town of Al Qaryatayn near Homs on Thursday. In total, some 230 persons were abducted.
“We do not know what ‘Islamic State’ intends to do with the hostages,” Father Jihad Youssef, a member of a Syrian-Catholic religious order, told the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need on Sunday. “Does ISIS intend to negotiate and let the people go free, or does it intend to kill them? We don’t know. Normally they give Christians three options. Either they pay the Jizya, the capitation tax, or they convert to Islam, or they must leave the place. The latter option was evidently not offered, or the Christians would have left."
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syria-based activist Bebars al-Talawy said they have no information where militants took their captives after overrunning the heavily populated town, Catholic News Service reported. A commentator for the UK-based Observatory said those abducted were wanted by ISIS for “collaborating with the regime,” and their names were on a list already prepared by the militants as they occupied the town. This has serious implications for those people and their lives could be in danger, warned the Christian rights group Middle East Concern.
Father Youssef approximated that 160 Christians were kidnapped because that is how many Christians had remained in Al Qaryatayn. "But we do not know if all of the remaining Christians were taken as hostages by ISIS, or if some went into hiding," he said. "At the end of the week, some 30 Christians succeeded in fleeing from the town. Some are shepherds and they know the region. They fled to Homs."
The Syrian-Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic Bishops of Homs are currently seeking to resolve the problem through contact persons, according to Father Youssef.
Father Youssef belongs to the Catholic religious community of Mar Musa, which has a monastery in Al Qaryatayn. “We still have some lay people there who are working for us. One of them recently informed us via Whatsapp that they are well, and that ISIS has not yet occupied our monastery of Mar Elian. But now we no longer have any contact with the place at all, not even by telephone. So we do not know if our monastery has now been occupied by ISIS or not, and what has happened to our workers and the hostages.”
At the end of May, one of Father Youssef’s brothers, Father Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped in Al Qaryatayn together with a deacon named Boutros.
“We have absolutely no information about Father Jacques’ condition, or where he is,” says Father Youssef. “We have tried everything. I do not know how the latest events in Al Qaryatayn will affect our brothers’ situation. If a solution can be found for all of the hostages, perhaps Father Jacques and Deacon Boutros will be included.”
Father Mourad, according to Father Youssef, was kidnapped because he had made an effort to promote dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims. “For many years he built bridges between the religions. This has now proved its value in the war.”
Aleteia partner Aid to the Church in Need contributed to this report.