SEVENTY-TWO members of the United States Congress have written
to the Secretary of State, John Kerry, urging the Obama
administration to take action to secure the release of the Syrian
Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mor Yohanna Ibrahim, and
the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul
The two men were seized more than a month ago in the north of
the country while en route from the Turkish border to
their home city. Their driver was killed (
News, 3 May).
The letter to Mr Kerry called on the State Department to make
the Archbishops' "release and safe return to Aleppo a priority in
our efforts in the region".
Earlier this month, there were strong suggestions that the
location of the two churchmen was known, and that they were in good
health. In recent days, however, doubt has been cast on these
A senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Brad
Sherman, who is a member of the International Religious Freedom
Caucus, said that he was pleased that 72 bipartisan representatives
had co-operated in this way. "We must do everything we can to
ensure that Christians and other religious minorities have a safe
future in Syria," he said. "I am deeply alarmed about the safety of
the Archbishops and call for their immediate and safe release."
Another signatory of the letter, Carolyn Maloney, said that it
was "a travesty that weeks have gone by since the Archbishops were
initially captured, and we have still heard nothing on their
release. These Archbishops have nothing to do with the Syrian civil
war, and I call for their release."
Congressman Mike Pompeo denounced the abduction of the churchmen
as "part of an alarming trend of violence directed at religious
minorities, especially Christians".
Syriac and Greek Orthodox church leaders in Aleppo issued a
statement on 22 May, expressing "sadness and increasing pain about
the abduction and the absence of these two eminent Prelates".
They spoke of their regret that the prayers of Christians and
the efforts of Muslim organisations had failed to secure the
release of the men. "As it is painful for them in their abduction,
it is also painful for all the faithful of their two communities,
the people of Syria, and the world."
George Sabra, the acting head of the Syrian National Council,
the main opposition group, who had reported that the two men were
being held by rebels north-west of Aleppo (
News, 17 May), said earlier this week that their whereabouts
was now uncertain.