Damascus (AsiaNews) - There is still no news on the fate of Fr. Dhiya Azziz, a Franciscan of Iraqi origins, pastor of Yacoubieh (in Syria), abducted in Syria the day before Christmas Eve. The Custody of the Holy Land, contacted by AsiaNews, reports that there are no updates on the case, the details of which remain confused, and renews the invitation to pray for his release.
In an official statement released on 26 December, the leaders of the Custody report that "all trace of the religious were lost on the morning of December 23 last" when he departed from Lattakia on board a taxi heading for Yacoubieh, via Hama.
He was on his way back to his parish to celebrate the holiday season with the faithful, after a brief visit to Turkey to visit his parents and family, who had refuge across the border after the arrival of the Islamic State (IS) in Karakosh, in Iraq, his homeland.
The last official contact dates back to the morning of December 23, at about 9. Then from that point, the statement adds, there has been no news, and "no one knows where he is." All traces have also been lost of the other passengers on board the taxi.
In all probability there are extremist groups or criminal gangs behind the kidnappings, who use ransom moneys to fuel their terrorist network. Moreover, the "very chaotic" situation in the country - at war for five years – gives little hope for an imminent release.
Fr. Dhya Azziz was born in Mosul, ancient Nineveh, Iraq, on 10 January 1974. After studies at the the medical Institute in his city, he embraced the religious life and after his novitiate at Ain Karem, makes the first profession of religious vows on April 1, 2002. In 2003 he moved to Egypt, where he remained for several years.
In 2010, he joined the Custody and was sent to Amman. He was then transferred to Syria, Lattakia. He them volunteered to assist the c Yacoubiehommunity, in the Orontes region (province of Idlib, district of Jisr al-Chougour), despite the very serious danger as it was under the control of Jabhat al Nusra militias.
As early as last July he was the victim of a flash kidnapping, which ended a few days later with his release. At first the suspicions turned to militants of al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria. However, the movement's leaders denied any involvement. In all probability he had been taken by another jihadi group that hoped to obtain a large ransom.
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.