A group of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns who were abducted by a jihadist militia that raided their town in Syria on December 1 were seen attesting to their well-being in a video aired on Al Jazeera Friday afternoon. It is a great relief to see that they were still alive. Other jihadist videos have been surfacing on social media, including a spate in recent days, graphically documenting their bloodletting, according to links in the Catholic service Asia News.
“The brothers are treating us well and have brought us from the convent here and we are very happy,” one of the sisters is heard saying. Each of the sisters reportedly took turns speaking to the camera.
On Wednesday, the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch told the international press that the nuns were in Yabrud, some 80 kilometers north of Damascus. However, their exact whereabouts have not been confirmed and church sources say they are being held captive by extremist rebels.
The nuns’ assurances that they are “very happy,” of course, should be taken with a grain of salt since they came from the mouths of captives of well-armed and ruthless Islamists. The New York Times’ posture of scrupulously objective reporting –“ it was impossible to independently verify it or to know if the nuns were speaking under duress” – is risible.
The nuns are from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Takla in Maaloula, an ancient, Aramaic-speaking Christian town just north of Damascus. The rebels’ raid was the second since September. As I reported previously, the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was shelled and “cleansed” of nearly all its residents. While Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and twelve other nuns weathered that first siege, they were forced out in the second.
Last Wednesday, Pope Francis, after stating the nuns “were forcibly abducted by armed men,” called on the faithful to “pray for these sisters and for all the people who have been kidnapped as a result of the ongoing conflict.”
The World Council of Arameans, a Swedish-based Assyrian Christian group, issued a statement after the attack on Maaloula that condemned “all kidnappings of Syrian citizens.” It correctly noted that the abduction of religious figures, such as the nuns and two bishops and many priests in prior months, is particularly tragic since it “aims to put fear into the Syrians and rob the country of its ethno-religious diversity.”