SYRIA: Militant Islamists terrorize Christians in Idlib province

IDLIB, Syria — Kidnappings and violent attacks by militant Islamist factions controlling Idlib province continue to terrorize what is left of the Christian presence and villages in Idlib countryside. Militant Islamist groups including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, affiliated groups, and former Islamic State members — most of whom were evacuated from other regions in Syria through so-called “safe corridors” — control Idlib province. Tahrir al-Sham (former al-Nusra Front) is one of the militant Islamist factions which refuses to recognize the recent Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement in Idlib.

It is these groups who are guilty of intimidation, kidnapping, theft, looting and murder. According to NGO International Christian Concern, “Christian properties are considered as spoils of war, and thus fall under the civilian wing of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.” HTS, a terrorist organization, has clamped down on Christian properties in Idlib.

“This office has informed property owners that HTS maintains the right to rent, acquire, and dispose of property at any time. The properties are handled under Sharia law, and Christians who fled their homes in this area are prohibited from appointing someone to challenge decisions. Properties of Christians in Western Idlib, such as in the villages of Ya’aqubiya and Halauz, are disposed by HTS in order to support the families of fighters.”

The major international news reports about the war in Idlib province do not address the precarious situation of the Christians in the province. Although many have fled, there is still a Christian presence (Armenians, Syriac Melkites and Catholics) in the area in villages such as al-Yaqoubiya, al-Qunaya, Ghassaniya and al-Jadida, and most Christians live a withdrawn life more or less in hiding out of fear of being targeted by the extremist Islamists. They did not leave their lands and homes despite the raging war and the presence of the militant Islamist factions. Last year, in al-Yacoubiya the tortured dead body of a 60-year-old retired Syrian-Armenian schoolteacher was found.

”The terrorist attacks against Christians never stop, al-Nusra, ISIS and other terrorist groups are trying to make us vanish from what has been our motherland for thousands of years.”

According to the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights, al-Yaqoubiya was again the victim of a kidnapping this week.  The Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights issued a short Facebook statement reporting the disappearance of a Christian from the village of al-Yacoubiya. On 7 May, Samir Mstarih, a tractor repair mechanic and not politically active, disappeared shortly after leaving his home in al-Yacoubiya. Several of Samir Mstarih’s family, friends and neighbors fear that he also might have been kidnapped by militant Islamist and fear for the worst.