St. Vincent de Paul members abducted in Syria, whereabouts unknown

Vatican City — The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been unable to confirm the number of its members abducted in Syria, as well as where they are being held.

"We're waiting for news," Helene Afriat, communications officer for the International Confederation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, told Catholic News Service on Friday. She added that communication with people in the Mideast was "very difficult."

She also said the society has not been able to verify or confirm reports that those kidnapped were being threatened with decapitation and their children were being held in cages.

The society announced on its website March 4 that "several colleagues," along with "women and children," were kidnapped in the province of Hassakeh in northeastern Syria.

The website announcement called for prayers and said, "At the moment we have no details, also the greatest caution is required on sharing this dramatic information."

In an interview more than a week later, Afriat said nothing had changed.

"The surrounding villages have been evacuated, the people have fled, communication is very difficult and we have not been able to establish contact with our volunteers and correspondents working locally," she said. "The people who reported these recent kidnappings were unable to give us more precise details."

She said it is likely those abducted -- all local Christians -- might not have made their Society of St. Vincent de Paul membership known to their captors, so as not to "aggravate their already dramatic situation" and increase the threat to their lives because of their association to an international organization. She said the abduction took place between Feb. 28 and March 1.

Afriat also warned of the danger in circulating unverified claims.

"Given that human lives are threatened, we are exercising great caution in matters of information, and we will only communicate proven facts, so as not to present any additional threat to the lives of these people who are being held hostage," she emphasized.

She said because of the numerous abductions of Christians in Syria by Islamic State militants in recent weeks, the society presumed its members were also abducted by Islamic State, but this information had yet to be confirmed. She also said it was unclear whether the members were kidnapped from the city of Hassakeh during a brief incursion or from surrounding villages.

The city of Hassakeh is located less than 12 miles from the front and remains Syrian territory, under the control of the Kurds, said Afriat. However, the surrounding area sees daily fighting between Kurdish forces and Islamic State militants.


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