On June 23, Catholic Syrian priest Fr. François Murad was murdered in Idlib by rebel militias. How he was killed is not yet known and his superiors "vigorously deny" that he was a victim of beheading, as some news sources are claiming. It is apparent, however, that he was a victim of the shadow war against Christians that is being fought by jihadists alongside the larger Syrian conflict. This is a religious cleansing that has been all but ignored by our policymakers, as they strengthen support for the rebellion.Share
Affiliated with the Franciscan order that was given custody of the Holy Land sites by Pope Clement VI in 1342, the 49-year-old priest was killed in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Rosary where he had taken refuge after his monastery was bombed at the outset of the conflict, and where he had been giving support to the few remaining nuns, according to Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custos of the Holy Land. The Vatican news agency Fides reports that "The circumstances of the death are not fully understood," but, according to local sources, Fr. Murad's building was attacked by the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Fr. Pizzaballa denies that any Franciscans were beheaded last week, as was claimed by several sources. He was quoted in the Italian press, commenting about the video, "it seems like various old news stories have been mixed up." The video was "uploaded by al-Qaeda to terrorize Christians," according to Andrea Avveduto, a writer who works with the Custody of the Holy Land. "The corpse of Murad was intact. The friars in the region exclude [sic] that the priest was one of the people beheaded in the footage." Avveduto also writes that "The friars are apparently alive and are currently in the Franciscan monastery of Latakia, where they arrived a few days ago, to bury the body of their brother, Fr. Murad."
As I testified to Congress last week at a hearing on Syria's minorities chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.): "Though no religious community has been spared egregious suffering, Syria's ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that it confronts an 'existential threat.'"
In fact, this was a finding last December of the U.N. Human Right Council's Commission of Inquiry on Syria. As in Iraq, Syria's two-million-strong Christian community, the largest next to Egypt's Copts in the entire region, is being devastated. Targeted by jihadist militias, they are steadily fleeing Syria, and whether they will be able to return to their ancient homeland is doubtful. (Read entire article.)