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17066Greek Orthodox priest abducted in Syria is found dead

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  • John Brian
    Oct 25, 2012

      Greek Orthodox priest abducted in Syria is found dead

      October 25, 2012 | 8:05 am

      BEIRUT -- A Greek Orthodox priest has been found slain after being kidnapped
      near the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Syrian government and the Vatican
      news service reported Thursday.

      The body of the Rev. Fadi Jamil Haddad, pastor of St. Elias Church in
      Qatana, outside Damascus, was discovered in the Jaramana district of the
      capital, reported Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news service. The site was not
      far from the area where he was kidnapped by an "unidentified armed group"
      last Friday, the agency said.

      The Vatican agency quoted a colleague saying the priest had been "horribly

      The official Syrian news service said the priest was found with a gunshot
      wound to his head. The government news agency blamed the crime on
      "terrorists," its usual characterization of the armed opposition fighting to
      oust President Bashar Assad.

      According to the official account, the priest was abducted while seeking
      the release of another person who had been kidnapped by militants.

      But it was not clear if the priest's slaying was political, sectarian or
      criminal in nature. Many Syrians have complained of a breakdown in law and
      order and a spike in kidnapping for ransom and other crimes as security has
      deteriorated. Opportunistic criminals have moved to take advantage of the
      nation's security void.

      The Vatican news agency reported that the priest's kidnappers had demanded a
      ransom equivalent to about $715,000 for the priest's release. "It was,
      however, impossible to find the money and meet this exorbitant demand,"
      reported Agenzia Fides.

      The Greek Orthodox population is considered the largest Christian
      denomination in Syria, where Christians represent perhaps 10% of the
      population. Syria is overwhelmingly Muslim.

      Christian leaders in Syria say their community, which has ancient roots, is
      in a precarious position. Some Christians have joined the rebellion and
      called for Assad to step down. But many Syrian Christians back Assad, whose
      administration has been tolerant of religious minorities even as it has
      crushed political dissent.

      Assad has tried to rally support among Christians and other minorities
      against the armed rebellion, which is led by the nation's Sunni Muslim
      majority. There have been reports from Syria of government efforts to arm
      Christian communities. But some Christian leaders have urged their
      co-religionists to remain neutral in the conflict.

      Some Christians voice fears that Islamists will take over the secular Syrian
      government and that the nation will experience the kind of sectarian
      violence, including the bombing of churches and torching of Christian shops,
      that ravaged neighboring Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam
      Hussein. Hussein, like Assad, was a secular autocrat who tolerated Christian
      religious practice. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to Syria in
      the aftermath of Hussein's fall.

      --Patrick J. McDonnell

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]