Assyrian Christian leader tells how his humanitarian aid inspired a friend to plot his escape, on a motorbike, disguised as a jihadist fighter
FATHER Jacques Mourad has told how he escaped the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria with the help of a friend whose family had been helped by the priest’s programme of aid to the poor and disadvantaged.
Speaking out after nearly six months in the hands of the Islamist terror group, Fr Mourad said that with the help of the friend he had escaped IS-held Qaratayn on the back of a motorbike disguised as an Islamist fighter.
The friend – who had links with IS – had told Fr Mourad he was impressed by the priest’s humanitarian relief work in Qaratayn – food, shelter and medicine – funded by charities including Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
In an exclusive interview with ACN, Jacques Mourad said this work had “played a great role in setting me free”.
Fr Mourad, whose outreach to Muslims led him to be known as ‘Sheikh Jacques’, said that when Qaratayn’s water supplies were cut off he helped build a reservoir with the help of the charity. He said he was convinced that this help had caused the militants to show leniency towards 150 Christians held hostage by IS in Qaratayn.
Support from local Muslims
Fr Mourad described how pressure from Muslims in Qaratayn had prompted his return to the city under house arrest following 84 days in an IS prison at the terror group’s headquarters in Raqqa, northern Syria.
He said: “One day, one of the IS leaders came to me and said: ‘Everybody in Qaratayn had been talking about you, asking for you.’ So he told me to come with him.
“I was led away – still blindfolded and with hands bound – and I was taken into what seemed like a huge tunnel.”
“I was led away – still blindfolded and with hands bound – and I was taken into what seemed like a huge tunnel.
“Some time later, they removed my blindfold and I could see all my parish in front of me in the shelter that ACN had built. It was amazing.”
Recalling his time in prison, Fr Mourad said that every day in the prison Islamists would threaten to kill him. He added, “I was waiting for the moment when they would come and slit my throat.”
Despite this pressure, Fr Mourad said “I was very conscious of the prayers of so many people” and mentioned the prayer that he strengthened his efforts to remain calm and at peace: ‘Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.’”
Fifty more believers released
In a further development, some 50 of the 250 Christians captured by IS in Qaratayn on 6 August have been released, according to Barnabas Fund. The freed captives safely arrived in Assyrian villages Zaidan and Fairozeh on 12 October. It is thought that the group is continuing to hold 185 of the Christian hostages which include 75 women and several children. Father Mourad is now working for the release of the remaining hostages.
Since fleeing from Qaratayn, Father Mourad has given a moving interview to the BBC about his former captivity in Raqqa. Watch here
Background: In August 2015 The Economist reported on the 1,500-year-old monastery (now destroyed by IS) which Fr Mourad had been seeking to develop as a centre of hospitality. Read article