Gunmen abduct two bishops in northern Syria

Boulos Yaziji (left) and Yohanna Ibrahim The bishops are the most senior Christian clerics kidnapped since the conflict began

Militants in a rebel-held area of northern Syria have abducted two bishops travelling from the Turkish border back to the city of Aleppo.

The kidnapping was reported by Syrian state media and confirmed by a member of the official opposition leadership.

Yohanna Ibrahim is head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Boulos Yaziji leads the Greek Orthodox Church in the city.

They are the most senior Christian clerics caught up directly in the war.

It was not immediately clear who had kidnapped them.

Christians made up about 10% of the mainly Sunni Muslim country's population before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began just over two years ago.

BBC map

According to the UN, at least 70,000 people have been killed overall in the civil war and more than one million are now living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

'Driver killed'

State TV announced that an "armed terrorist group" had kidnapped the two bishops as they carried out "humanitarian work in Aleppo countryside".

Abdulahad Steifo, a Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the men had been kidnapped on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al-Hawa crossing, which is close to the Turkish town of Reyhanli.

Asked who was behind their abduction, he said: "All probabilities are open."

Christian residents of Aleppo, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency that gunmen had killed the bishops' driver.

In an interview with BBC Arabic's Saeed Shehada a week ago, Bishop Ibrahim said he was optimistic about the future of Christians in Syria:

"There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians. Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians," he said.

More on This Story

Syria conflict

More Middle East stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SkeletonRobot skeleton

    BBC Future discovers how a pair of bionic legs helped get Daniel Fukuchi back on his feet

Programmes

  • Click reporter Jen Copestake looks at a smart mirrorClick Watch

    From the mirror offering beauty advice to next gen robot vacuums - the connected home of the future

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.