Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate kidnaps priest

2015-07-07 20:00
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Beirut - A Franciscan priest working in a part of Syria controlled by an al-Qaeda affiliate has likely been kidnapped by the group, a monitoring body said on Tuesday.

"We have information that the al-Nusra Front has kidnapped father Dhiya Aziz from Yacoubieh, in Idlib province," Rami Abdel-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.

Aziz is a church official with no political ties, Abdel-Rahman said.

The Custody of the Holy Land, the Franciscan church body that oversees sacred Catholic sites throughout the Middle East, confirmed the kidnapping.

It said it had lost touch with Aziz after he was taken away by "an unknown armed brigade, perhaps connected with Jahbat al-Nusra [the al-Nusra Front]... for a brief interview with the emir of the place" late on Saturday afternoon.

Aziz had volunteered to serve the local community in the north-western province of Idlib, a particularly dangerous task since the area was controlled by al-Nusra Front, the Franciscans said.

Al-Nusra has controlled areas of northern Idlib near the Turkish border since mid-2014. In alliance with other, mostly hardline Islamist, rebel groups, it seized the province's two main cities from government forces earlier this year.

Al-Nusra has also played a key role in rebel offensives around Aleppo and in southern Syria.

In June, al-Nusra militants killed 20 members of the Druze minority in Qalb Lozeh village in Idlib province. The group later apologised for the incident and promised to pay compensation.

A number of Christian priests and bishops have been kidnapped in Syria in the past two years, among them two bishops abducted by rebels near Aleppo in April 2013.

Their fate remains unknown.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  syria  |  abductions

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