Aleppo, Syria, Oct 9, 2014- The Custody of the Holy Land announced Thursday that the Franciscan priest who was abducted in Syria by rebels over the weekend has been released, and is under house arrest at the convent in his town.
“Fr. Hanna Jallouf has been released this morning,” the Custody of the Holy Land said in an Oct. 9 statement, adding that “he is under House Arrest” at the convent of Qunaya.
Fr. Jallouf, O.F.M., is 62 and a Syrian native. He was kidnapped the night of Oct. 5 by militants linked to al-Nusra Front.
The priest was abducted along with some 20 parishioners from the village of Qunaya, located in Idlib province 29 miles west of Idlib and 75 miles northwest of Hamah. He has spent 12 years ministering in Qunaya.
There are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the others who were kidnapped along with the Franciscan.
Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M, vicar apostolic of Aleppo, told Fides Oct. 9 that “we know that (Fr. Jallouf) is well, and this is important, but there is no news of the release of the men who were kidnapped with him.”
According to Fides, four women were among those abducted, and they were released Oct. 8. Fides added that it had been told by local sources that Fr. Jallouf’s house arrest “was ordered by the Islamic Court.”
Agence France-Presse reported Oct. 9 that “a Franciscan spokeswoman … confirmed to AFP that the other captives were also released,” after the Custody’s initial announcement that Fr. Jallouf had been released.
When the priest and parishioners were kidnapped, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, O.F.M., Customs of the Holy Land, said the militants accused the victims of collaborating with the government of president Bashar al-Assad, a claim he denied.
One source told Agence France-Presse that the rebels were angry with Fr. Jallouf because he refused to give them olives harvested from trees on the convent’s land.
A Syrian activist reported that al-Nusra Front had been trying to take control of some Franciscan properties in the Qunaya, resulting in Fr. Jallouf making a complaint to a religious court.
The Franciscans have been present in Syria for 800 years, and established a presence in Qunaya in 1878.
The kidnapping was the latest in a series of attacks on Christian religious in the Syrian civil war.
In April, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, S.J., was murdered in Homs as he cared for the fewer than 30 Christians who remained in the city, which had been blockaded by the Syrian regime for nearly two years. A Dutchman, he had worked in Syria since 1967, was involved in interreligious dialogue, and had built a spirituality center which housed some 40 children with mental disabilities.
In December 2013, a group of Greek Orthodox nuns as well as women from their convent’s orphanage were abducted by al-Nusra Front in Ma’loula, 35 miles north of Damascus. They were returned, unharmed, in March.
In July 2013, Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, S.J., was abducted from Raqqa, a city controlled by the Islamic State. He had served the people of Syria for more than 30 years, and had been exiled by the regime in 2012 after criticizing Assad.
While in Rome in September 2012, Fr. Dall’Oglio spoke to CNA with hope for Syria’s future. Though officially exiled, he soon returned to minister in rebel-held areas of Syria. In October 2013, three months after his kidnapping, he was reported to be alive, but he remains missing.
In April 2013, both the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Yuhanna Ibrahim, were kidnapped. Their driver, Deacon Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, was killed. The bishops remain missing, though it has been rumored that only one of them is still alive.
And in October 2013, seven relief workers from the Red Cross and Red Crescent were abducted. Four were released one day after their capture, but three remain missing.
The Syrian conflict began in March, 2011 when demonstrations sprang up nationwide against Assad’s rule.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 191,000 people. The civil war is being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The rebels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State; and Kurdish separatists. The war has resulted in more than 3 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.
An additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.