Congressmen seek release of kidnapped Syria archbishops

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Washington – 72 Members of Congress, led by Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Mike Pompeo (R-KS), urged the State Department to prioritize the release of two kidnapped Archbishops in a letter to Secretary Kerry.

Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo, were abducted by unknown assailants while carrying out humanitarian work in the northern province of Aleppo on April 22, 2013. Their driver, Fatha’Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was shot dead. Pope Francis has called for the release of these Archbishops.

“I am pleased that 72 bipartisan Representatives in the House joined together in urging the Secretary of State to make this issue a priority,” said Rep. Sherman, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. “We must do everything we can to ensure that Christians and other religious minorities have a safe future in Syria. I am deeply alarmed about the safety of the Archbishops and call for their immediate and safe release.”

“It has been almost a month since Metropolitan Ibrahim and Metropolitan Yazigi were kidnapped,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “I am deeply concerned about their safety and demand their immediate return. These men of God faithfully served the Orthodox community during the ongoing conflict in Syria and their kidnapping highlights the troubling rise in abductions. This type of tragedy only heightens the need for the Assad regime to step aside. The United States needs to identify pro-democracy elements within Syria, so the country may work to establish a new government based on democratic institutions that promote and respect human rights and religious freedoms for all. I thank my colleagues in the House for joining us on this important letter urging Secretary Kerry to prioritize the safe return of the Archbishops to Aleppo.”

“I am deeply concerned for the safety of Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo, who were kidnapped as they carried out humanitarian work near the Turkish border of Syria,” said Rep. Maloney. “Not only were these religious leaders abducted, but their driver, an innocent victim, was murdered by these armed individuals. It is a travesty that weeks have gone by since the Archbishops were initially captured, and we have still heard nothing on their release. These Archbishops have nothing to do with the Syrian civil war, and I call on their immediate and safe release.”

“The kidnapping of Metropolitan Ibrahim and Metropolitan Yazigi is part of an alarming trend of violence directed at religious minorities, especially Christians,” said Rep. Pompeo. “I am glad to be joined by 71 Members of the House of Representatives to demand the release of the Archbishops and to reaffirm our commitment to religious freedom around the world.”

“We urge the State Department to make Metropolitan Yazigi and Metropolitan Ibrahim’s immediate release and safe return to Aleppo a priority in our efforts in the region,” said the Members in the letter. “As Members of Congress committed to religious freedom in the Middle East and around the world, we believe the United States must do everything it can to ensure that all the diverse religions and ethnicities of Syria have a safe future.”

Full text of letter:

The Honorable John Kerry

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C.

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write to express our grave concern over the kidnapping of Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, and Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Archbishop of Aleppo. The two Archbishops were abducted by unknown assailants while carrying out humanitarian work in the northern province of Aleppo on April 22, 2013. We mourn the murder of Fatha’Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, who was serving as the Archbishops’ driver at the time of their abduction.

We urge the State Department to make Metropolitan Yazigi and Metropolitan Ibrahim’s immediate release and safe return to Aleppo a priority in our efforts in the region.

Metropolitan Yazigi and Metropolitan Ibrahim had previously made public pronouncements that religious tolerance and diversity was under threat from the two-year conflict in their country.

The kidnapping of Metropolitan Yazigi and Metropolitan Ibrahim reflects the troubling rise in abductions in Syria, the expanding chaos and brutality of the civil war that has killed more than 70,000 Syrians, and an increasingly dangerous environment for religious minorities.

As Members of Congress committed to religious freedom in the Middle East and around the world, we believe the United States must do everything it can to ensure that all the diverse religions and ethnicities of Syria have a safe future.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

The Honorable Brad Sherman
The Honorable Gus M. Bilirakis
The Honorable Carolyn Maloney
The Honorable John Sarbanes
The Honorable Trent Franks
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
The Honorable Eliot Engel
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
The Honorable Joseph Crowley
The Honorable Peter King
The Honorable Chris Van Hollen
The Honorable Peter Roskam
The Honorable Darrell Issa
The Honorable Don Young
The Honorable Steve Israel
The Honorable Charles B. Rangel
The Honorable Walter Jones
The Honorable Chris Smith
The Honorable Carolyn McCarthy
The Honorable Nick J. Rahall, II
The Honorable Doug Lamborn
The Honorable James P. McGovern
The Honorable William Keating
The Honorable Jim Langevin
The Honorable Michael E. Capuano
The Honorable Albio Sires
The Honorable Mike Fitzpatrick
The Honorable Frank R. Wolf
The Honorable Gerald Connolly
The Honorable Peter DeFazio
The Honorable Bill Johnson
The Honorable Bill Foster
The Honorable Michael F. Doyle
The Honorable Anna Eshoo
The Honorable Justin Amash
The Honorable Jared Polis
The Honorable John A. Culberson
The Honorable Bill Huizenga
The Honorable Gary C. Peters
The Honorable Pete Olson
The Honorable Rick Larsen
The Honorable Steven Cohen
The Honorable Tim Huelskamp
The Honorable Tim Griffin
The Honorable Roger Williams
The Honorable Jim Bridenstine
The Honorable Tim Murphy
The Honorable Michael H. Michaud
The Honorable Matt Salmon
The Honorable Alan Nunnelee
The Honorable Bill Pascrell, Jr.
The Honorable Scott Garrett
The Honorable Gregg Harper
The Honorable Steven Palazzo
The Honorable Keith J. Rothfus
The Honorable Richard Hanna
The Honorable Joseph R. Pitts
The Honorable Kevin Cramer
The Honorable Andy Harris
The Honorable James Lankford
The Honorable Stephen Fincher
The Honorable Jan Schakowsky
The Honorable David N. Cicilline
The Honorable Chris Stewart
The Honorable Rush Holt
The Honorable Ted Deutch
The Honorable James P. Moran
The Honorable Leonard Lance
The Honorable Rodney Davis
The Honorable Joaquin Castro
The Honorable Grace Meng
The Honorable Lynn Jenkins
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