Wednesday, August 14, 2013

as-Safir on the Kidnapped Bishops

UPDATE: as-Safir has published a much-expanded version of this article, which has been translated into English here.

Arabic original here. Thanks to a reader for passing this article along to me. Naturally, the information should be taken with a serious grain of salt, but the political analysis is good.

Two disappeared bishops or two martyred bishops. And what is the connection of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio and his mission of mediating with the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" in Raqqa in order to clarify their fate, his disappearance, and perhaps his murder?

There are two hypotheses about what happened to the metropolitans of Aleppo, Greek Orthodox Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Youhanna Ibrahim, though there has been no material evidence until today that would confirm one hypothesis and eliminate the other.

Information from sources independent of each other leans toward the second hypothesis, that that two bishops were killed before the end of last May, a month after their kidnapping near Aleppo. The source of the information is inquiries made by elements of the "Free Syrian Army" close to the "Ninth Division" in Aleppo, formerly called "Ansar al-Khilafa" [Supporters of the Caliphate] and another inquiry conducted by Arab security agencies via Turkish intelligence.

According to Syrian opposition military sources, the kidnappers killed one of the bishops a few days after the abduction, while the second was killed in May. However, the Arab security source says that during a meeting two months ago with officials from Turkish intelligence to discuss the nine Lebanese hostages, the question of the kidnapped bishops' fate was raised and the Turkish security official tersely replied that they had been killed.

Over the past day, discussion of the two bishops has intensified in the media, when the Turkish foreign ministry itself was forced to deny the presence of the bishops on Turkish territory. The Turkish followed a letter last week from the Syriac Orthodox patriarchate in Damascus calling on all sides to clarify their positions regarding the two bishops, who had been kidnapped some hundred-odd days earlier, without intervening parties from any of the sides being able to find even the start of their trail or any intermediary leading to the kidnappers.

Attention has focused on Turkish intelligence because of their proximity to all the kidnapping operations-- every one of which has taken place within a few kilometers of their crossing the Turkish border into Syrian territory, whether they are Lebanese, Syrian, European, or of any other nationality.

Numerous sources agree that the group "Jund al-Khilafa" [Army of the Caliphate] led by Abu Umar al-Kuwaiti carried out the bishops' kidnapping last April 22, minutes after their passing through a "Free Syrian Army" checkpoint in Mansoura, three kilometers from the northern entrance to Aleppo.

According to experts on Syrian jihadism the kidnapping group, made up of eight Chechens, belongs to  Abu Umar al-Kuwaiti's group, which until a few months ago was known as "Jund al-Khilafa" before changing its name to "Liwa' al-Muslimin" [Banner of the Muslims]. Abu Umar al-Kuwaiti leads a group of foreign fighters, including 200 Chechens. Al-Kuwaiti is of Shi'i origin, but his father converted to Sunnism. His real name is Husayn Lari and he has pledged obedience to Muhammad al-Rifa'i, one of the leaders of "Afghan Jihad" residing in London, as caliph of the Muslims.

What happened before the kidnapping and did the bishops fall into a trap that had been prepared for them? Had the trap been prepared for Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim alone and not for Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi, since Yazigi's presence in the silver Kia Cerato  beside Metropolitan Ibrahim had not been decided until a few hours earlier, and that purely by chance? In the case of Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim, his presence in the area was normal within his network of connections.

The issue of the bishops has not received a serious inquest that could lead to negotiations with the kidnappers. Instead, from the very beginning it followed the path of political accusations without any evidence, first against the regime. This allowed ransom profiteers to start attempting to make contact with the kidnappers ahead of the Church, the Syrian National Committee, or the Free Syrian Army.

One of the ironies of this affair is that statements have been issued by all sides with the exception of the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" which has kept silent and has not responded to any of the calls from the opposition Syrian National Council or from activists in Northern Syria to clarify the fate of the bishops and of the other kidnapping victims.

In a statement to the Italian news agency Aki, assistant director of the Vatican press office Father Ciro Benedettini denied any knowledge on the part of the Vatican of Father Dall'Oglio's having been killed, expressing his hope that "the issue will be resolved positively in the quickest possible time."

In related news, the London-based, rebel-connected Syrian  Observatory for Human Rights claims that Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio, an outspoken supporter of the rebels, was killed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the local al-Qaeda franchise. Read about it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Our parish priest received a phone call from a US Congressman last week confirming that the bishops were alive and healthy. He said that he did not know their location, but was able to confirm their status.