Al Qaeda-linked group kidnaps priest in Syria
Father Hanna Jallouf of the Custody of the Holy Land was reportedly seized by members linked to the Nusra Front
A Franciscan priest and 20 other Christians have been kidnapped by Al-Qaeda-linked militants in a Syrian village near the border with Turkey, the Franciscan mission to the Holy Land said Tuesday.
"On the night of Oct. 5, Father Hanna Jallouf of the Custody of the Holy Land, parish priest at Qunyeh, Syria, was taken by some brigades linked to the Nusra Front," AFP quoted a statement from the Custody of the Holy Land as saying.
Following their capture, an unspecified number of Franciscan nuns had taken refuge with the villagers, the statement said.
Catholic news agency Fides, quoting Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo in Syria, said around 20 Christians were taken along with the priest, Reuters reported.
"Among the kidnapped are young people, both boys and girls," he was quoted as saying.
Qunyeh is a village of several 100 people in the Syrian province of Idlib and lies some 8 kilometers from the Turkish border.
Franciscan official Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land, confirmed the kidnapping of the 62-year-old priest and 20 villagers to AFP.
"They are accusing them of being collaborators" with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Pizzaballa told AFP in Jerusalem, expressing deep concern over the fate of the priest, a Syrian who has worked in Qunyeh for 12 years after a posting in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
"We don't know what to do. We don't know with whom to talk, we're totally unable to get in touch with anyone," added Pizzaballa, the guardian of the Catholic Church's sites in the Holy Land.
AFP quoted a source linked to the Franciscan Order in Aleppo as saying that Nusra Front rebels had forced their way into the convent and “looted everything.”
The source said Nusra Front rebels were "angry with Father Hanna because he refused to give them some of the olives harvested from trees on the convent's land."
Pizzaballa could not confirm reports that the convent had been plundered, saying the claim was being looked into.
The Nusra Front group has seized control of many different Christian and Muslim villages in the area in the past few years, he said.
The Franciscans, a religious order within the Catholic Church, have 19 people working across Syria, where the order has operated for 800 years. They have been working in Qunyeh for 125 years.
The Custody of the Holy Land is made up of 285 members of the Franciscan Order from 39 countries.