A Jesuit priest has been kidnapped in Syria – with local Christians fearing Islamic extremists have seized him.
Fr Jacques Mourad, who has been ministering to Syriac Catholics for the last 12 years, was taken with a Christian co-worker on Thursday from the central town of Qaryatayn in the Homs governorate.
Qaryatayn is 65 miles south-west of Palmyra, which was seized by the extremist group Islamic State on Wednesday.
Fr Nawras Sammour, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Services for the Middle East, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “We still have no news of him.
“We only know that he was abducted by four men, undoubtedly belonging to a jihadist group.”
Fr Sammour described how, over the last few days, Fr Jacques had welcomed refugees from Palmyra, who had fled to Deir Mar Musa monastery where he was living. The monastery is about 50 miles north of Damascus.
Fr Sammour said: “He has always helped the Syrians and has welcomed a great many Muslims into the monastery of Mar Elias.”
He told Aid to the Church in Need that Fr Jacques had continued his ministry in the area, even though he was aware of the growing threat from extremists.
Speaking from Damascus, Fr Sammour recalled that Fr Jacques was apprehensive at their last meeting around two months ago.
The director of the Jesuit Refugee Service said: “He was extremely concerned about the presence of the fundamentalists in Qaryatayn.”
But he added that in the past Fr Jacques had negotiated with the Islamist rebel militia Al Nusra Front to secure the release of hostages.
“When I asked him if he was intending to leave, he told me that he would do so only if forced – otherwise he would remain with his people.”
The Jesuit said the abduction of this priest was being interpreted by many as a sign that Islamic State would try to capture Homs.
Recalling the abduction of Fr Dall’Oglio and Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi – as well as the killings of Fr François Mourad and Fr Frans Van Der Lugt – Fr Sammour said priests working in the region knew the dangers.
He said: “We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims.
“In many cases we are the only ones they have to turn to.”