A Syrian Catholic priest was executed by Islamic extremists June 23, the Vatican has confirmed. The Catholic News Service reported that 49-year-old Father Francois Murad, who was in the process of building a Syriac Catholic hermitage near a village on Syria's border with Turkey, was dragged by the Islamist rebels from the Franciscan Convent of St. Anthony in Ghassanieh, Syria, where he had fled for safety, and summarily beheaded.
Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who oversees the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, told the Vatican News Agency that Murad had taken refuge in the convent after it became clear that he was not safe on the grounds of the hermitage he was constructing. Local sources told the Vatican that the convent was breached by “militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra,” who beheaded the priest and at least three others, using a simple kitchen butcher knife as the execution weapon.
The village where both the Franciscan convent and the hermitage are located has been under intense siege by Islamic extremists for several weeks. The Vatican News Agency quoted Father Pizzaballa as saying that the village is now almost completely deserted, save for a few of the Islamist extremists who have terrorized and killed Christians and other villagers. Local residents said the extremists were not Syrian.
As part of its coverage, the U.S.-based Catholic Online posted an extremely graphic video that included amateur footage of the execution. The video shows a man believed to be Father Murad sitting with his hands bound before he is beheaded by a man with a kitchen knife. The onlookers can be heard and seen chanting Allahu Akbar (“God is Great”) before pulling out cellphones to photograph and capture on video the whole bloody scene.
The Vatican News Agency reported that Father Murad “had taken the first steps in the religious life with the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, and with them he continued to share close bonds of spiritual friendship.
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Photo of captured priest, immediately prior to his execution.