Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SYRIA: THREE CHRISTIANS ABDUCTED IN FEBRUARY SHOT DEAD

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that three Christians who were part of a group of 200 held captive by Daesh (Islamic State) since February have been executed. The terrorist group released a video on 8 October showing Dr Abdel-Maseeh Aniyah, Ashur Rustam Abraham and Bassam Issa Michael in orange jumpsuits. The men were ordered to confirm their names before being shot dead. Daesh have threatened to execute the remaining hostages if their ransoms were not paid.

The men had been held since 24 February, when Daesh abducted 253 Assyrian Christians following dawn raids on their settlements in the northeast of Syria. While the group has periodically released elderly prisoners, reports indicate that 202 people remain in captivity with Daesh. According to news reports, Daesh is demanding ransoms of around $50,000 per hostage for the release of each prisoner. In March, 23 Christians were released after paying a religious tax.

Syrian Christians have been targeted by militant Islamist jihadi groups since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, with many killed or forced to flee their homes. In many cases, those who have remained, often the elderly and disabled, have been ordered to either convert to Islam or pay a religious tax (jizya).

In other news, Father Jacques Mourad, a priest from the Syriac Catholic Church who was abducted on 21 May, has been released.
Father Mourad, who is also head of the monastic community in Mar Musa, located between Damascus and Homs, was abducted as he travelled to the Mar Elian monastery in al-Qaryatain town, where he had been helping those displaced by the war. At the time of the abduction his colleague, Father Jihad Youssef, stated: 'Father Jacques made no distinction between Christians or Muslims. He helped anyone in distress. The psychological care of people in the war and other emergency humanitarian aid were also important to him. For years he had cared for war refugees.'

According to ARA (Independent Press Agency), Father Mourad is currently in Zaydal village, Homs Province and further details of the priest's release have been withheld for security reasons.

Daesh destroyed the Mar Elian monastery in late August. More than 2,000 Christians lived in al-Qaryatain prior to the Syrian civil war but most have left since violence reached the province of Homs.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, 'We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of Dr. Abdel-Maseeh Aniyah, Ashur Rustam Abraham and Bassam Issa Michael and pray that one day their murderers will be brought to justice. The release of Father Mourad is a rare piece of good news, but our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the many innocent people who are still held captive and who are now also under threat of extrajudicial execution pending payment of exorbitant ransoms. 

'We also remember Archbishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who were abducted by gunmen in April 2013 and whose whereabouts remain unknown. We renew our call to the international community to provide protection for Syria's religious and ethnic minorities against an onslaught that is claiming innocent lives and erasing the country's diverse heritage.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

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