Al-Qaryatayn: 21 Christians killed by Islamic State, others still in the hands of the jihadists

The news first denounced by the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II. The killings date back to the time of the siege of the town and in the following weeks. Fr. Michel: "Ongoing negotiations to free the hostages, but the situation is confusing." Uncertainty over their fate. The militia reported to have tried to sell the Christian women as slaves.


Homs (AsiaNews) - The Christian victims in the hands of the Islamic state were killed at the time of the "siege" of Al-Qaryatayn and "weeks after" the seizure of power of the jihadists. This is what is denounced to AsiaNews by Fr. Michel Noman, a priest in Homs. His diocese is home to the town that was recently freed by the Syrian army with the help of Russian air raids.

Yesterday in an interview with the BBC, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II said that at least 21 Christians were killed by Islamic State (IS) in al-Qaryatayn (central Syria); some of them were killed in an escape attempt; others killed for refusing to convert to Islam. The victims include three women.

Fr. Michel adds that there is still "a group of Christians in the hands of the Islamic State. There are ongoing behind the scenes negotiations – he continues - to try to free them, but the situation is complicated. We do not even know for sure if they are still alive, or dead. " The priest also stresses that "it is difficult" to understand why the jihadists have killed the Christians, perhaps "because they put up opposition, or for other reasons. Things are getting confused with the IS".

Al-Qaryatayn ( "The two villages" in Arabic) is located in the governorate of Homs, in central Syria, a country battered by five years of civil war that has caused 260 thousand deaths and millions of refugees. In August, the militias of the Islamic State conquered the area, causing serious damage to the monastery of Mar Elian, an ancient building of the Christian tradition, which houses the relics of this saint who was martyred by the Romans for not having renounced his faith.

The monastery, demolished with bulldozers by jihadists who posted images of the destruction online, had long been under the guidance of Fr. Jacques Mourad, a priest of the Syrian Catholic Church, who was kidnapped and held for months by the IS militias. In recent days, a Christian delegation visited the area, telling AsiaNews of a "total devastation" with damage everywhere, "in the church, the monastery, the center" for visitors and pilgrims.

In the words of the Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, the 300 Christians left in the city after the capture of Daesh [Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, ed] were immediately subjected to abuse and violence by the jihadists. Those who tried to escape, or would not convert to Islam or submit to the rules of the "Caliphate" were killed.

The militiamen also reportedly attempted to sell the Christian girls as "slaves"; according to some sources, there are Christians missing, but hopes of finding them alive are almost nil.

Al-Qaryatayn, which once had 30 thousand inhabitants, of which a thousand Christians, has long been a symbol of religious coexistence although today it is a ghost town, the shops destroyed, buildings damaged or collapsed under the intense fighting. According to legend with the arrival of the Arabs in the region in the sixth century A.D. one of the two most important families of the city converted to Islam, while the other remained Christian, with the aim to protect each other from external attacks. Today the area is considered a strategic hub of Homs province and is rich in subsoil deposits.