Franciscan priest, four Christians freed by Islamist militants in Syria

(Photo: REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki)A woman prays inside a damaged church in Maaloula August 21, 2014. Residents of Maaloula, a Christian town in Syria, call on other Christian groups and minorities to stand up to the radicalism that is sweeping across Syria and Iraq. The town was regained by Syrian Army forces in April from Islamic militants, and several months later life is slowly returning to the town.

Father Hanna Jalouf, the Franciscan priest kidnapped by rebels in a Syrian border town earlier in the week, has been released, the Custody of the Holy Land, the head of the Catholic order in the region.

Jalouf was said to be under "house arrest" at a convent in Qunaya in northwestern Syria, a statement from the custody said.

"We know that [Jallouf] is well, and this is important, but there is no news of the release of the men who were kidnapped with him," Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M. vicar apostolic of Aleppo, told Fides news agency on October 9.

Details of his kidnapping and the subsequent release of him and four other Christians, however, remained sketchy.

Initial information revealed that Jalouf had come personally to ab Islamic court to complain about the harassment he and his parishioners experienced from militant Islamists who seized control of the area there.

Members of the al-Nusra Front purportedly attempted to take control of property owned by the Franciscan order in Qunaya. This prompted the priest to make the complaint to the Islamic court.

After the complaint, the Islamic court ordered the priest's house arrest, the Catholic news agency Fides reported.

Another version of the story, cited by an Agence France-Presse source said the rebels had been angry with Jalouf because he refused to give the olives that were picked from the trees on the land of the convent.

A Syrian activist reported that the al-Nusra Front had been trying to take control of some Franciscan properties in the Qunaya, resulting in Jallouf making a complaint to a religious court.

Jallouf, 62, is a Syrian native, and he has ministered to Christians in the area for the past 12 years. He and 20 other Christians were kidnapped on the night of October 5 by militants linked to the al-Nusra Front.

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