By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 May, 2015
Concern is mounting for a Jesuit priest who has been kidnapped in recent days in Syria.
Fr Jacques Mourad was abducted on Thursday along with a co-worker from the town of Qaryatayn in the Homs governorate, where he ministers to the Syriac Catholic community.
The town lies 65 miles south-west of Palmyra, the ancient city and World Heritage site which was seized by ISIS on Wednesday.
ISIS militants are reported to have killed and beheaded Syrian government troops in Palmyra and are in the process of imposing their interpretation of Islam.
The capture of Palmyra has raised international alarm with UNESCO warning that its destruction would be “an enormous loss to humanity”.
Palmyra contains important monumental ruins including some renowned buildings from the 1st and 2nd century AD when it was under Roman rule. The art and architecture of Palmyra includes Graeco-Roman techniques assimilated with local traditions and Persian influences.
ISIS militants have destroyed several sites in Iraq – most recently the ancient city of Nimrud, one of Iraq’s greatest archaeological treasures.
They are also reported to have burnt down Mosul Library, which housed over 8,000 ancient manuscripts, and used sledgehammers to demolish statues at a Mosul museum and at an archaeological site known as the Nergal Gate.
The fall of Palmyra came just days after ISIS captured the major Iraqi city of Ramadi.
Meanwhile, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Services for the Middle East, Fr Nawras Sammour, told Aid to the Church in Need that they still had no news about Fr Jacques Mourad.
“We only know that he was abducted by four men, undoubtedly belonging to a jihadist group,” Fr Sammour said from Damascus.
He said he was extremely concerned about the presence of the fundamentalists in Qaryatayn as he felt that ISIS would next try to capture the city of Homs.
A number of priests and two bishops have been abducted and some have been killed in the conflict in Syria, including Fr Dall’Oglio and Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi as well as Fr François Mourad and Fr Frans Van Der Lugt who were killed.
Fr Sammour said priests working in the region knew the dangers.
“We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims.”
“In many cases we are the only ones they have to turn to.”