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Jihadists in Syria kidnap another priest, signalling ISIS is on the move
The abduction of this priest is interpreted by many as a sign of the intention of ISIS to capture more territory in eastern Syria, including the city of Homs.
By Marta Petrosillo
ROME—Almost two years since the abduction in Raqqa, Syria, of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, jihadists grabbed another monk from the Deir Mar Musa monastery, some 50 miles north of Damascus, the Syrian capital
On May 21, 2015, another of its monks, Jesuit Father Jacques Mourad was abducted in Qaryatay, a small town in central Syria some 65 miles from Palmyra. There, Father Mourad had been ministering for the past 12 to the local Syrian-Catholic community, while living in the monastery of Mar Elias. Father Mourad was last in touch with his community was around midday yesterday.
"We still have no news of him. We only know that he was abducted by four men, undoubtedly belonging to a jihadist group,” Father Nawras Sammour, SJ, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service for the Middle East, told Aid to the Church in Need. Father Mourad was travelling with a co-worker when two motorcycles drew up alongside his car. His kidnappers seized the vehicle and abducted the Jesuit priest.
Speaking by telephone from Damascus, Father Sammour recalled his last meeting with Father Mourad around two months ago. "He was extremely concerned about the presence of the fundamentalists in Qaryatayn,” he said.
Nonetheless, the priest was committed to staying put to continue his work sheltering and supporting Internally Displaced People in his monastery.
At some point, Father Mourad even negotiated with the Al Nusra Front to secure the release of hostages. "When I asked him if he was intending to leave, he told me that he would do so only if forced; otherwise he would remain with his people,” Father Sammour said.
In the last few days, Father Jacques had also welcomed many refugees from Palmyra, the city that just fell to the Islamic State. "He has always helped the Syrians and has welcomed a great many Muslims into the monastery of Mar Elias,” Father Sammour reported. The abduction of this priest is interpreted by many as a sign of the intention of ISIS to capture more territory in eastern Syria, including the city of Homs. Father Mourad expressed the same fear just days before his abduction.
In addition to the abduction of Father Dall’Oglio and the two bishops in Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi, Father Sammour also recalled the murders of Father François Mourad, who was assassinated in Ghassanieh in June 2013; and of Father Frans Van Der Lugt, was shot dead in Homs in April of last year. "We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims. In many cases we are the only ones they can turn to."
Father Jacques Mourad (photo courtesy of Father Ziad Hilal, SJ)