by Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Coorespondent
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (Worthy News)– A Catholic priest has been publicly beheaded by suspected Islamic militants in northern Syria after accusations of collaborating with President Bashar Assad's government, Worthy News established Tuesday, July 2.
Francois Murad, 49, was executed among two others in the countryside in northern Syria last week Sunday, June 23, according to statements, photos and video footage posted on the Internet.
The Vatican confirmed Murad's death saying the "Franciscan Father" was "attacked by militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra" after he was pulled from the convent for the Custody of the Holy Land in the northern village of Gassanieh where he had taken refuge.
There was no immediate known statement from the group confirming its involvement in the killing.
Murad was establishing a monastery in Gassanieh "dedicated to St. Simon Stylites" but was confronted by Islamic militants who are among the rebels fighting Assad forces, the Vatican and other sources said.
In graphic video footage circulated online, Father Murad is seen tied up and pushed to the ground as a man slowly cuts his head off from behind with what appears to be a kitchen knife.
Several dozen onlookers, including several children, can be heard chanting 'Allah Akhbar' ('Allah is Great) as the beheading, which takes about a minute, takes place.
As the priest's severed head is held up, the crowd becomes more frenzied. Two other men are beheaded in similar circumstances. It remained unclear Tuesday, July 2, whether they were also associated with the Catholic Church.
In comments monitored by Worthy News, Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy in Hassaké-Nisibis said that the beheading underscores "The whole story of Christians in the Middle East" that "is marked and made fruitful by the blood of the martyrs of many persecutions."
He said among those suffering was Murad who send him "some messages that clearly showed how conscious he was of living in a dangerous situation, and offered his life for peace in Syria and around the world."
The killing has underscored international concern of the growing influence of headline Islamists fighting among rebels and attacks against Christians.
In a recent report, aid and advocacy group Open Doors International warned that the country's minority Christians are becoming victims of "disproportionate violence and abuse" in a war that has claimed as many as 100,000 lives.
Thousands of Christians are among the 1.6 million Syrians, including more than 800,000 children, who sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, according to UN and other estimates.
With the growing influence of Islamists, the report warned of a bleak future for all Syrians, especially Christians, whoever wins the battle for Syria.
"Christians face the prospect of never being able to return to their homes and businesses, or of returning to a civil order that is less pluralistic and accepting of minority rights than before the war," added political commentator Nicholas Heras, who provided analyse for the Open Doors report 'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians'.
This article was reprinted with permission from Worthy News' partner news agency, BosNewsLife.