A Syriac Catholic monk Fr Jacob ‘Jack’ Murad and Botros Hanna,a church volunteer who were abducted by masked militants from the Mar Elian Monastery in Al Qaryatayn in May has escaped from the Islamic extremists.
Murad, who is about 40, was the president of Mar Elian Monastery and head of Catholic Monastery of Monks in Syria. The monastery had been used as a refuge for those fleeing Palmyra, where Islamic State have declared control. The building itself was blown up in August by the Islamic State group.
A source close to Fr. Mourad, contacted by Asia News, confirmed that he was not freed, but managed to escape from his captors. Dressed in a disguise, he managed to escape from Al-Qaryatayn on a motorcycle “with a Muslim friend”. “I didn’t expect to survive,” Fr Jack recalling his abduction by ISIS. “It was a group of militants with their faces covered. They took me and a young man working in the monastery.”
They were both handcuffed and blindfolded and put them in a car which drove them towards an unknown destination “in the mountains”.
Four days later, the two men were tied and blindfolded again, before being taken on a longer journey.
They were taken to a prison in Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold where they were kept for 84 days.
There was no violence,” Fr Jack told the BBC. “But they were always ready with harsh words. They called us infidels.”
They asked about God, the Holy Trinity , Christ and the Crucifixion, Fr Jack said. Though he thought it ‘pointless’ to try to answer. He said he considered that pain is the path of repentance and change. He mentioned that although he was blindfolded and handcuffed, he was repeating, “I am going to freedom”. He added that the prison for him was a “rebirth.”
On August 11, ISIS transferred the Syrian Catholic priest to a place near Palmyra after the Christians of Al Qaryatayn who were kidnapped by ISIS on August 5 called on ISIS to release their priest. The priest mentioned that when he entered a dark tunnel, he found Christians of Al Qaryatayn in a dormitory under the ground. The group was held captive for another 20 days, then on August 31, Fr Jack was summoned before ISIS clerics.
The ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had decided their fate.
“ISIS had four options: to kill men and keep women captives, to enslave everyone,to convert to Islam or to allow citizens of Al Qaryatayn live among the lands of Caliphate according to ISIS terms. They could live under ISIS rule, with their land, homes and money, under ISIS protection, but they had to sign a two-page contract listing restrictions.
The group was taken back to Qaryatain the next day, and was told not to leave ISIS-controlled territory. Fr Jack and Botros fled, escaping with the help of a Muslim friend.
I felt that as long as I am there, Christians will not leave. So I had to go to encourage them to do the same,” he said. But not many have followed – there are 160 Christians left behind.
He said, “It’s truly a miracle that a priest has been freed from the hands of the Islamic State. A miracle that the Virgin Mary worked for me.”