On Sunday night, Oct. 5, members of the Al-Nusra Front seized Fr. Hanna Jallouf, the parish priest of Qunaya (Knayeh) village, located in Idlib province just eight kilometers from the Turkish border, an area where al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups have been fighting the Syrian army for three years.
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, speaking from the Franciscan Custody of the Land offices in Jerusalem, confirmed to World Watch Monitor that he has received no word whatever on the location or fate of the captured Christians. Those taken hostage reportedly include three women and several young people.
Three Franciscan nuns who run a youth center and dispensary in the village were inside the St. Joseph Convent at the time and escaped capture.
IS militants had taken control of Qunaya villageand the surrounding region last year, forcing churches to remove their crosses, banning the ringing of church bells and requiring women to veil their faces. An estimated 700 Catholic families live in the small village and nearby area.
But when the Islamic State militants moved to the east at the end of 2013, Al-Nusra jihadists took over. Reportedly the group, which has seized control of both Christian and Muslim villages in the area, had recently seized Fr. Hanna’s passport.
According to Fr. Pierbattista, the Qunaya Christians were being accused falsely of “collaborating” with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One source in Aleppo told AFP that the convent had been completely looted, and another report alleged the rebels had taken these church relics and documents to use as “evidence” against the Christians, to try them before a Shariah court. But Fr. Pierbattista could not confirm either of these claims.
A Syrian activist contacted after the kidnapping told AFP that Al-Nusra had been trying to take control of some of the Franciscan properties in Qunaya, which had been resisted by Fr. Hanna last week.
According to AFP’s Aleppo source, Al-Nusra rebels were “angry with Father Hanna because he refused to give them some of the olives harvested from trees on the convent’s land.”
The 62-year-old has lived in Qunaya for the past 12 years, one of 19 Franciscan workers currently serving in the country. A religious order of Catholics who still use the Latin rite, the Franciscans have ministered in Syria for the past eight centuries.
In April, a Dutch Jesuit priest who refused to leave the embattled Syrian city of Homs, Frans van der Lugt, was killed by so-far unidentified assassins in his garden.
Two weeks ago, a defector from IS in Raqaa told the BBC that an Italian Jesuit priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio (who went missing in July 2013 after visiting ISIS’ headquarters to try to hold talks) is still alive, but apparently a hostage.
Two Bishops from Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, were kidnapped in April 2013: there has been no word about them for some time.