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  • Bill Samsonoff
    Apr 29, 2013

      Pravoslavie ^ | April 26, 2013

      Posted on Sunday, April 28, 2013 3:57:49 PM by NYer


      The two kidnapped metropolitans are Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim,
      Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, and Boulos Yazigi, Greek
      Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Alexandretta, brother of Greek
      Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi, who has been struck with a double tragedy.

      Bishop Matta Khoury, secretary to Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Zakka I
      Iwas, spoke to al-Joumhouria on behalf of the patriarch, who had just
      come out of the hospital on the night of the incident. He confirmed,
      also in his capacity as Bishop of Bab Touma in Damascus, that the
      Patriarchate will not take any decision while awaiting any contact from
      the kidnappers, in order to know their intentions and demands.

      Khoury states that, "As Christian clergy, we do not fear Syrian Muslims.
      We have no problem with any Syrian Muslims, whether they are Sunni,
      Shii, or Alawi. Rather, our problem is with foreign Muslims who come
      from abroad, Chechens, Taliban, Afghans who want, for example, to fight
      Russia in our region. " He adds, "We have lived with Syrian Muslims for
      a long time and we coexist with them in peace. We are brought together
      by feasts and united by traditions." Khoury emphasizes that "Muslims
      from all sects have built our patriarchal residence in Bab Touma,
      decorated it, and carved icons of Saint George for us."

      Khoury likewise affirms to al-Joumhouria that his Muslim children who
      fled from Homs and whom he met in Lebanon confirm to him that "there is
      no connection between Syrian Muslims and what is happening. They are
      sorry about what has happened in Homs and are afraid of the foreign
      groups that have come from abroad." He points out that, "the Syrian
      Muslim does not constitute a source of fear for the Syrian Christian, as
      history testifies."

      Details of the Kidnapping

      Bishop Matta Khoury recounts to al-Joumhouria the details of what
      happened: After some effort, one of our priests in Aleppo was able to
      contact us and to confirm the kidnapping of Metropolitans Youhanna
      Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, who were on a humanitarian mission that they
      had been preparing for a long time, obtaining the release of an Orthodox
      and a Catholic priest. They were accompanied by a man named Fatuh, who
      has been Metropolitan Ibrahim's driver for more than five years, and a
      fourth, unidentified person.

      On their way to the specified area to carry out the task which,
      according to al-Joumhouria's information was ready and approaching its
      conclusion-- liberating the priests, their car encountered a foreign group.

      Khoury reveals that initial information indicates that the kidnappers
      are Chechens and when they saw that two of those riding in the vehicle
      were laypeople, they threw them out of the car and fled with
      Metropolitans Yazigi and Ibrahim in an unknown direction.

      Khoury confirms that the fourth, unidentified person is "a close
      confidant of Metropolitan Yazigi" and he believes that he was playing a
      fundamental role in the operation to release the priests who had been
      taken hostage. He reveals that this person and the driver were both
      thrown onto the road. After several hours, news arrived from Fatuh's
      family who contacted the Metropolitan's office in Aleppo and informed
      them that his son had found him murdered and had identified him from
      distinguishing characteristics. The whereabouts of the fourth person are
      still not known.

      However, Khoury confirms that the fourth person is free and that "he is
      the one who made it known that the kidnappers did not attack the two of
      them, but rather threw them on the side of the road before each left in
      a different direction. He confirms that the party that found and
      murdered Fatuh are unconnected to the kidnappers."

      Khoury recounts that, "the agreement to release the hostages required
      Metropolitan Yazigi to come from Turkey while Metropolitan Ibrahim set
      out from Aleppo, and that they would meet at an agreed-upon location in
      order to carry out the operation to liberate the priets."

      Khoury, who is responsible for the patriarchal residence in Bab Touma in
      Damascus and is currently overseeing the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate,
      explains that the fourth person confirmed this story and said that the
      kidnappers' features indicate that they are foreigners. Chechens are
      distinguished by their accent and coloring (beards, light skin, and blue
      eyes, in addition to language) and so we deduce it from the information
      that we have from Metropolitan Yazigi's friend.

      Regarding Fatuh's family, Khoury states that they received his body and
      identified him, emphasizing that "we acknowlege that the kidnappers are
      not the driver's killers and that, according to the fourth person, they
      are Chechens. However, we are not sure whether they are really Chechens
      or whether they belong to another group."

      He adds, "We are waiting the kidnappers to contact us, the patriarchate,
      or the metropolitan's office in Aleppo so that we can know their
      demands. Our sources confirm that efforts continue to release the two
      metropolitans and for this reason we have waited to publish a statement
      and we have not yet contacted the Greek Orthodox patriarchate.

      We are calmly working individually, but this does not mean that we do
      not want to cooperate. Just the opposite, we want each one to work
      separately because we do not want to make a hasty decision, lest we put
      the metropolitans' life in danger."

      Khoury called for "Waiting for the legal deadline, 24 hours, before
      holding any wider meeting or making any serious decision." He explains
      that "We do not possess much information to act upon. Our position as a
      patriarchate is unenviable position. We live in a state of sorrow,
      grief, and pain and we are upset by this news, especially Patriarch
      Zakka Iwas, who left the hospital today and his health is critical. The
      news startled him and increased his pain."

      Khoury emphasizes that, "We have always denounced and continue to
      denounce attacks on all priests, whether they are of our community or of
      another community, just as we denounce the death of Muslim clergy
      because the mission of all clergy is peace and love. Their position with
      the opposition or the opposite, but rather a purely humanitarian
      position." Khoury described the metropolitan's office's position as
      "bound" and we are unable to take any decision or issue any statement
      because we do not want to subject the metropolitans to danger.

      He explains that, "Kidnappers' demands are usually material or with the
      goal of political pressure, to pressuring the state to arrange an
      exchange. That is, the kidnappers may have a list of names they want to
      make an exchange for."

      He states that, "The kidnapping will not be easy for Christians in Syria
      because Metropolitan Yazigi is close to the regime and to the opposition
      and he has equally good relations with both sides. He has political
      tact, and whenever he expresses his opinion, his demands are the same as
      the demands of honorable Syrians: reform and an end to corruption."

      Khoury denies that the two metropolitans have enmity for any specific
      group, "and so we support the possibility that the kidnappers are
      neither close to the regime nor to the opposition and are not Syrian."
      He adds, "They could be Afghan or Chechen extremists, Jabhat al-Nusra,
      Lybians, or Egyptians who have come from abroad.

      We do not know who Metropolitan Yazigi was in contact with in order to
      release the priests. However, it is most likely that he was not in
      contact with foreigners, but rather the Free Syrian Army. News of their
      coming may have been leaked or their kidnapping could have happened by
      chance, since the area is not secure."

      Khoury calls for patience, pointing out that the fourth person "was only
      with difficult able to get to a telephone and communicate with the Greek
      Orthodox metropolitan's office in Aleppo. If the situation is not
      resolved tomorrow and the metropolitans return to their homes, we will
      work on the level of the two patriarchates."

      Khoury expresses his sympathy for Patriarch John X Yazigi, who is facing
      a double problem, for his family and for his church. He states that his
      heart is large and that he would deal in the same way, whether the
      person being kidnapped is his brother or any other person from his

      Khoury warns that "Over-analysis could cause danger for the
      metropolitans. For this reason we must be patient because each group of
      kidnappers has its own way of dealing and we do not want recklessness or
      their being killed."

      Khoury closes by saying, "Today is the Feast of Saint George. For the
      Syriac Patriarchate and bishops, it is a feast for praying that all the
      kidnapped priests may be freed, especially Metropolitans Yazigi and
      Ibrahim." He calls on Lebanese in general and especially Christians to
      "participate in prayer for the intention of their speedy release and the
      release of the nation's captives."