Latest update: July 11th, 2013
Although there are conflicting reports about which act of brutality killed a Syrian Roman Catholic priest late last month – whether, as initial reports, including from Catholic Online claimed, he was beheaded by Syrian rebels, or as has been reported more recently, the priest was shot to death by Syrian rebels who attacked his church, there is no doubt that Father François Murad was killed on June 23 by Syrian rebels at a church in Ghassaniya, northern Syria.
The Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan order which is the official custodian of religious sites in the Middle East, issued a statement two days after Father Murad’s death, saying Islamists shot him.
“Islamists attacked the monastery, ransacking it and destroying everything,” it said. “When Father François tried to resist, defending the nuns, rebels shot him.”
Father Francois had started the construction of a monastery dedicated to St. Simon Stylites in the village of Gassanieh after entering the priesthood, but that monastary was bombed during this Syran civil war. After the bombing, Fr. Murad moved to the convent of the Custody for safety reasons and to give support to the few remaining Catholics in the area.
According to various sources, the Vatican confirmed that Father Murad had been murdered, and initially also stated that he had been beheaded.
The confusion was caused, in part, because there is a video of Syrian rebels beheading two men on June 23, and Father Murad was also murdered on June 23.
Everyone agrees that both the murderers in the video shown beheading two Syrians, and the people who murdered Father Murad were members of the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra, a Sunni terrorist organization that operates primarily in Iraq and Syria.
The video of the beheadings is posted at Catholic Online. This reporter has not viewed it, but by all indications it provides a clear and graphic view of the acts of beheading. It also shows fellow terrorists watching the murders and chanting praise to Allah.
When the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department was asked at the daily press briefing on Tuesday, July 2, about the possible beheading of Father Murad by Syrian rebels, Jen Psaki said she had not yet seen the video (using an unfortunate phrase, she said she’d “be happy to take a close look at it”). Psaki reminded journalists that the U.S. has consistently been scrupulous about making sure that all U.S. military aid goes through the Syrian opposition’s Supreme Military Council, to make sure the aid is going to moderate members of the opposition forces and not to terrorist-linked groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.
While most at this point are in agreement that Father Murad was not beheaded, it is believed that one of the people shown being decapitated on the video is a different cleric whose name is not yet known.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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