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ISIS abducts as many as 160 Syrian Christians: 'fear is growing'
"Does ISIS intend to negotiate and let the people go free, or does it intend to kill them? We don't know."
By Oliver Maksan
NEW YORK—“We do not know what ISIS intends to do with the hostages,” Father Jihad Youssef, a member of a Syrian-Catholic religious order, exclaimed, his community in uproar.
The Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn near Homs was captured by ISIS Aug. 6, 2015, and a large number of both Christian and Muslim hostages were taken.
Father Youssef told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “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: They pay the Jizya tax; they convert to Islam, or they must leave the place. The last option was evidently not offered, or the Christians would have left.
“Reports that it could be around 160 persons sound realistic. This is approximately the number of Christians who had remained in Al Qaryatayn until the last. But we do not know if all of the remaining Christians were taken as hostages by ISIS, or if some went into hiding. 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.”
Father Jihad 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. 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 or the hostages.”
At the end of May, one of Father Youssef’s fellow monks, Father Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped in Al Qaryatayn, along with a deacon. “We have absolutely no information about Father Jacques’ condition, or where he is,” the priest said. “We have tried everything. I do not know how the latest events in Al Qaryatayn will affect our brothers’ situation.”
Father Youssef reported that there is great concern in Syria following the kidnappings. “Especially the Christians close to Al Qarytayn are anxious. Many people are thinking of leaving their homes, or even leaving the country. The fear is growing,” he said.
In a message to Christians in the West, Father Youssef said: “I now call on you to pray for our kidnapped brothers and the hostages of Al Qaryatayn. May God bring a change into the hearts of the kidnappers, so that they show mercy.”
Aid to the Church in Need has been particularly active in the Middle East. More than $12M has been spent since the end of 2011 in providing assistance to the Christians in Syria and Iraq. Recently, ACN has set aside more than two million euros for humanitarian aid in Syria.
Liturgy in Homs, Syria; ACN photo