Listen to this report by Claire Gilbody Dickerson via Vatican Radio:
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and Claire Gilbody Dickerson
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)— One of Syria’s most respected church leaders has condemned the destruction of an ancient Catholic monastery by the Islamic State (IS) group and expressed concern that hundreds of kidnapped people, many of them Christians, may have been killed and Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo Antoine Audo spoke hours after news emerged that IS had destroyed the monastery in the Syrian town of Qaryatain dating back to the 5th century after Christ, and is located in central Homs province.
He told Vatican Radio that IS militants wanted to send a message of “violence and intolerance” by destroying this symbol of Christianity and encourage Syria’s Christians to flee their homeland.
“As usual for us Christians, it is a message of violence and intolerance, a message to spread fear everywhere,” he said. The destruction of the monastery came after IS kidnapped some 250 people in Qaryatain earlier this month, including at least dozens of Christians.
It is “possible” that the hostages are killed as IS has “no conscience or morality” and “they are able to do anything,” warned the bishop.
Audo said the IS not only abducted them to obtain ransom money but also to “spread a message of terror” as part of efforts to show people they were “powerful” and they didn’t believe in a political solution.
Some of whom were taken from the Dar Alyan monastery, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Among those seized were reportedly nearly a dozen families including 45 women and 19 children. Several of the hostages were on a list of persons suspected by the militant group of “collaborating with the regime,” Christians said.
The families of hundreds of Christian and Muslim residents from Qaryatain have lost contact with their abducted loved ones since IS militants captured the area, BosNewsLife learned.
Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), an advocacy group monitoring the situation, said there were concerns that the militant group would also target other Christian populations in the Hawwarin and Sadad areas.
“Towns like Qaryatain are susceptible because they are located along the Damascus-Homs Highway, a route used to ferry supplies and fighters,” VOMC told BosNewsLife in a statement.
“The Syrian army launched a large-scale counter offensive to recapture the city, which lies in a region where some of Syria’s largest gas fields are located, but so far has made no significant advances.”
In February, IS militants also abducted at least 250 Assyrian Christians, the majority of whom were women and children, during raids on villages in northeastern Syria, Christians said.
Their fate of remains unclear, and numerous priests have also gone missing and are believed to still be in captivity.