DAMASCUS – Syrian Christians offered prayers Sunday for a group of more than a dozen nuns and orphanage workers held by rebels for nearly a week, fueling fears in the minority community that they are being targeted by extremists among the fighters seeking to oust President Bashar Assad.
The seizure of the 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and at least three other women is the latest attack to spark panic among Syria’s Christians over the strength of al-Qaida-linked militants and other Islamic radicals in the nearly 3-year-old revolt against Assad’s government. A priest and two bishops previously kidnapped by rebels remain missing.
Rebels seized the nuns on Monday from the Greek Orthodox Mar Takla convent when fighters overran Maaloula, a mainly Christian village north of Damascus that lies on a key highway and has changed hands several times in fierce fighting between rebels and government forces. The group, along with three women – themselves orphans – who work in the convent’s orphanage were taken to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud.
The eldest of the nuns is nearly 90 years old, and the youngest of the orphanage workers is in her midteens, according to Mother Superior Febronia Nabhan, head of the Saidnaya Convent.
On Friday, a video was released of the nuns, in which they denied being kidnapped, saying they were in good health and that fighters had taken them to a location away from the combat out of concerns for their safety.
The video only stoked the worries of Christians who gathered Sunday for a Mass at the Mariamiya Church in Damascus, the main Greek Orthodox church in the country.
“They’re coming after us,” Odette Abu Zakham, a 65-year-old woman in the congregation. “All they do is massacre people, all they know is killing.”
The rebel faction that released the video did not identify itself, and no faction has announced it is holding the group.