No news on kidnapped Syria bishops

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 6:38pm

Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox archdiocese said on Wednesday it had no news on two Orthodox bishops kidnapped in Syria, a day after a Christian association said the two men had been released.

“We have no new information,” Ghassan Ward, a priest at the archdiocese, said. “We can say that [as far as we know] they haven’t been freed,” he added of Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yaziji and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim.

The two men, both from Aleppo, were seized on Monday, but the French Oeuvre d’Orient Christian association said on Tuesday that they had been freed and were already at the northern city’s Saint Elias Cathedral.

The Paris-based association, which works to help Middle Eastern Christians, said it was “delighted by the rapid liberation of the two bishops”.

But Ward said on Wednesday that there had been “no contact with them,” adding that “efforts are continuing” to secure their release.

“We are very worried,” he said.

The two men were kidnapped en route from the Turkish border, when armed men intercepted the car they were in, forcing them out of the vehicle, Syrian state media and church sources reported.

Sources in both churches said the kidnappers were believed to be Chechen fighters, who stopped the car in an area outside of Aleppo.

“The news which we have received is that an armed group... (of) Chechens stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops while the driver was killed,” an official from the Syriac Orthodox diocese said in a statement posted online.

A source in the Greek Orthodox church said the kidnappers had described themselves as “Chechen jihadists.”

On Tuesday, the Syrian opposition condemned the kidnapping, saying the rebel Free Syrian Army was not involved and pointing the finger at the Syrian regime.

“Efforts... to uncover the identities of the clerics’ kidnappers and to liberate them indicate that the Syrian regime is responsible for the kidnapping, and (the) killing of Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim’s driver,” the opposition National Coalition said.

Christians account for around five per cent of Syria’s population, and have become increasingly vulnerable to attack and abductions in the lawlessness that has engulfed much of the country since March 2011.