On Wednesday, the Antiochian Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo said that it had no news on two Orthodox bishops kidnapped in Syria, a day after a Christian source said that their abductors released the two men. Ghassan Ward, a priest at the archdiocese, told AFP, “We have no new information. We can say that (as far as we know) they haven’t been freed”, he added of Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim.
On Monday, gunmen seized the two bishops from Aleppo, but the French Christian group Oeuvre d’Orient said on Tuesday that their kidnappers had freed them, and they were already at the northern city’s St Elias Cathedral. The Paris-based association, which works to help Middle Eastern Christians, said it was “delighted by the rapid liberation of the two bishops”. However, Ward told AFP on Wednesday that there had been “no contact with them”, adding, “Efforts are continuing” to secure their release. He said, “We’re very worried”.
Syrian state media and church sources reported that kidnappers seized the two men enroute from the Turkish border, when armed men intercepted the car they were in, forcing them out of the vehicle. Sources in both churches said that they believed that the kidnappers were Chechen fighters, who stopped the car in an area outside of Aleppo. An official from the Syriac Orthodox diocese said in a statement posted online, “The news which we’ve received is that an armed group (of) Chechens stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops whilst the driver was killed”. A source in the Greek Orthodox Church said the kidnappers described themselves as “Chechen jihadists“.
On Tuesday, the Syrian opposition condemned the kidnapping, saying that the rebel Free Syrian Army wasn’t involved and pointed the finger at the Syrian régime. The opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said, “Efforts… to uncover the identities of the clerics’ kidnappers and to liberate them indicate that the Syrian régime is responsible for the kidnapping, and (the) killing of Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim’s driver”. Christians account for around five percent of Syria’s population, and they’ve become increasingly vulnerable to attack and abductions in the lawlessness that’s engulfed much of the country since March 2011.
24 April 2013