Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Another priest has gone missing in Syria, probably seized by a unit of the Jabhat al Nusra Front, the Custody of the Holy Land announced in a statement. Like the latter, the missing clergyman belongs to the Franciscan order.
So far, no official confirmation of his disappearance has been made, but what is known is that, late in the afternoon last Saturday, “we lost contact with Father Dhiya Aziz, an Iraqi Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land, parish priest in Yakubiyah, Jisr ash-Shugur District (Idlib Governorate),” said the Custody statement.
“Some militants of an unknown armed brigade, perhaps connected to Jabhat al-Nusra, came to take him away for a brief interview with the Emir of the place,” the Franciscan Fathers said. However, "We are unable to trace his whereabouts at the present moment”.
Meanwhile, “We are doing everything possible to locate the place of his detention and secure his release.” At the same time, they have called on the faithful to pray for his speedy release.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, militia groups and jihadi fighters have seized several prominent Christian leaders, including two bishops, Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (of the Orthodox Church of Antioch), and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (of the Syriac Orthodox Church), both abducted on 22 April 2013.
On 9 July 2013, Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit priest from Italy, was also kidnapped, along with two other priests and some lay volunteers.
Last year, Jihadis also abducted 13 nuns, north of Damascus, eventually releasing them after a few months in a prisoner exchange.
Similarly, two Italian women in their early twenties seized in August 2014 were released in mid-January.
Fr Azziz was born on 10 January 1974 in Mosul, Iraq, which includes the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh.
After medical studies, he embraced the religious life, starting his novitiate at Ain Karem. He made his profession of religious vows on 1 April 2002.
In 2003, he moved to Egypt, where he remained for several years. In 2010, he came back to the Custody, which sent him to Amman. Subsequently, he moved to Latakiyah, in Syria.
In Syria, he volunteered in Yakubiyah, near the Asi (Orontes) River, a particularly dangerous region now under the control of Jabhat al-Nusra.
Since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, more than 3.2 million people have fled Syria with an additional 7.6 million internally displaced. Some 230,000 people have died, with 2014 as the worst year.
Since it emerged amid war and terror, the Islamic State group has lived up to its reputation of violence and brutality. An estimated 3,000 people, including 1.800 civilians and 74 children, have been executed since it established its so-called caliphate from seized chunks of Syria and Iraq.