Syria: Aleppo Bishops kidnapped on Monday

Aleppo- An armed group kidnapped two Christian, one Orthodox & one Syriac, bishops in Aleppo on Monday. Their driver, also a priest, was killed during the attack.

Bishops have been kidnapped by rebels in a village in Aleppo Province, according to Syrian state news (SANA). Kidnappings have become increasingly prevalent in Syria as law and order has broken down.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Monday that two bishops from the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches, respectively, had been kidnapped at gunpoint in the village of Kafr Dael in Aleppo Province.
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“An armed terrorist group kidnapped Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church [in Aleppo] and Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox Church [in Aleppo] while they were on humanitarian operations in the village of Kafr Dael in Aleppo Province,” SANA said.

Press reports said that an armed group calling itself the “Chechen group ” was behind the kidnapping of the two Aleppo bishops that were kidnapped in the outskirts of the city on Monday evening.

Christian residents of Aleppo reached by AFP said Ibrahim set out in his car to pick up Boulos Yaziji (Bishop Paul) from the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Turkish border, which is under rebel control.

The car was intercepted on the way back by gunmen who kidnapped the bishops and killed their driver, the residents said on condition of anonymity.

Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest from Syria and director of the London-based ecumenical charity, the Awareness Foundation, said it was impossible to speculate who was to blame for the kidnapping.

“Probably nobody knows exactly what happened, but he was picked up by another bishop [Yohanna Ibrahim], who is the Syriac bishop in Aleppo. Ibrahim, and his driver, went to pick him up from the border of Turkey to come back to Aleppo. Apparently they were both kidnapped and the driver – who I think was a priest – was killed, and the two bishops disappeared.” Nassar told The Guardian.

Asked about whether Yazigi was a critic of the government, Nassar said ” We all want change in Syria but without bloodshed … The aim is not about just criticizing the government. As good citizens we all demand better conditions of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion and freedom of journalism. We are talking about the basics of a free society. It is not about criticizing anybody, it is about tangible changes we can build upon. That’s the basis of Syrian conflict.”

“Both sides, whether opposition or the government, have [made] huge mistakes in the last two years, and thousands of people have died senselessly.” Anglican priest added according to The Guardian report.

He added: “He [Bishop Yazigi] believes in diversity like we all do – that the fabricate of Syria is diverse and we should all respect and protect this diversity. We should respect the colourful nature of the [Arab] Spring.”

Opposition activists suspect the bishops could have been abducted by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The state news agency has blamed rebels. Nassar said “It is very difficult, because a lot of radical Muslim groups are operating in Aleppo. All I say is that their safety and release is very important for the co-existence for the society in Syria. We have to defend diversity in Syrian society at all costs.”

He added “It is extremely difficult to say who kidnapped him, or to speculate. We are facing a very difficult and complicated situation in Syria. It is not black and white. It is impossible to speculate unless a specific group declares responsibility.”

The Anglican priest Nadim Nassar also indicated “I heard about the involvement of [opposition leader] George Sabra in this process [of trying to secure the Bishops freedom]. I hope and pray that he will be successful, as I pray for the freedom of all who kidnapped in Syria. It is like a business that has flourished in Syria in the last year for ransoms. Kidnapping has become a fear and terror of daily life for Syrian people.”

For his part, George Sabra, the most prominent Christian in the Syrian opposition, is working to secure the release of the kidnapped bishops, AFP reports citing a Greek official.

Greek foreign minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has spoken by phone to Sabra, who said he would act immediately to locate and liberate the bishops, a Greek government spokesman told AFP.

A Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey.

Asked who had kidnapped them, Steifo said: “All probabilities are open.”

The Christian clergy members were reportedly carrying out humanitarian work when they were abducted at gunpoint.

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