FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Father Jacob (Jacques) Murad, Superior of the Mar Elian Monastery Abducted by Militants
05/22/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Father Jacob Murad, a Syriac Catholic monk and Superior of the Mar Elian Monastery, was abducted by Islamic militants. Mar Elian, in the town of Qaryatayn, was preparing for an influx of people displaced by the capturing of the ancient city of Palmyra by ISIS (or Islamic State) jihadists.
Located 40 miles southeast of Homs and 60 miles southwest of Palmyra, Mar Elian is in an area of potential advance for the militants opposing the Assad regime. “ISIS’s advances in the Homs Desert will allow ISIS to stage for future attacks into the Syrian central corridor,which could create opportunities for other anti-Assad forces to advance on additional fronts,” said the Institute for the Study of War in its May 20 update on control of territory in Syria. Since the conflict started in 2011, Qaryatayn has been a frequent site of clashes between the regime and opposition forces.
Several hours before being taken, Murad had refused to leave the monastery, despite the threat of the Islamic State group in the region. “As the priest and pastor, I will never leave this place so long as there are people here, unless they hunt me down,” Murad replied to Father Ziad Hilal of Homs who had encouraged him to leave, according to AFP.
At least three armed militants arrived at the monastery by motorcycle and at gunpoint abducted Murad and another Christian, believed to be Boutros Hanna, a deacon in the church, La Croix reported.
Just hours before his abduction, Murad warned of the brutal advance of ISIS militants towards Mar Elian.
“We live in a difficult time when a lot of tension because the extremists who call themselves ‘Daech’ [Arabic initials of ISIS] approaching our city Quaryatein after their domination Palmire or they kill many people by cutting the heads…it’s terrible what we live…today we are, tomorrow we do not know…life becomes complicated.
Please pray for us, Jacques.”
He wrote in the email posted by The Association of Friends of Mar Musa.
The Mar Musa Monastery is the sister site to Mar Elian Monastery and was led by Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was himself kidnapped by ISIS in Raqqa, Syria on July 29, 2013. He was reportedly executed, but some had reported he was still in ISIS captivity.
Despite their role as mediators and promoters of dialogue, numerous priests have become targets of Islamic extremist groups in Syria.
Murad was born in Aleppo, Syria, and “has devoted his life to spread love, message of brotherhood, tolerance, justice and coexistence among all Syrian people and solemnly embraced the principle of dialogue with the Syrian Muslims community,” according to the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights.
Murad and the Mar Elian community have been providing sanctuary and aid for hundreds of those displaced by the conflict, including more than a hundred children.
Todd Daniels, regional manager for the Middle East, said, “We are heartbroken to hear of the abduction of Father Murad and Boutros Hanna. Their abduction demonstrates again the nature of Islamic extremist groups who are not only seeking to establish an Islamic State, but are intent on stamping out Christianity as well. Father Murad as a result of the love of Jesus shown in the Gospel has dedicated his life to love and serve the Syrian people and this is the antithesis to the extremist Islamic ideology represented by the jihadists of ISIS. Our hearts and prayers are with Father Murad and we urge the Syrian government and the international community to pursue all available options to secure his release.”
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Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East