Syrian priest Father Jacques Mourad, the prior of the Mar Elian Monastery,who was abducted by IS last May has recently been released after five months. He is currently staying in the village of Zaydal about three miles from the city of Homs. Fr Mourad celebrated his release by conducting Mass the next day in Homs province for the first time since his abduction.

Father Mourad was abducted from Quaryatayn by unknown gunmen when IS invaded the nearby city of Palmyra. This was a few months before the destruction of the 1,600-year-old monastery in August when IS took over the town of Quaryatayn and kidnapped over 230 people, including 60 Christians. Mourad had been working since 1991 to rebuild the 1,600-year-old Mar Elian Monastery, which he used as a base to help reconcile local Christians and Muslims. Prior to that he was a monk at the Mar Musa Monastery, founded by Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio. Dall’Oglio went missing on a visit to Raqqa, now the IS de-facto capital, and has not been seen since July 2012.

For security reasons, no details were given to the media on how or why Fr Mourad was released. However, Monsignor Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, confirmed that “Father Jacques Mourad was released on Oct. 10” adding: “Yesterday, at about 2 p.m., I spoke with him for the first time since his release. He told me he was resting, and in good health.” Mgr Zenari said that Fr Mourad would be going to Damascus, the Syrian capital and was expected to give more information about his detention and abduction.

Fr Mourad had not been heard from since his abduction but was recognised in an IS video released in late September that showed a group of men meeting in Qaryatayn with an IS fighter and was entitled “Fight until they pay the jizya pledging subservience to Muslim rule”. In order to continue living in their homes in the area, the Christian men who appeared in the video had to sign a “payment contract” to pay a per capita tax to IS   based on social status. The Christian community also had to promise not to conspire against IS, erect crosses, ring church bells or conduct ceremonies in public places. Provided the Christians abided by the agreement, IS said they would not hurt them, force them to convert or take their possessions.  If they did not, they would be treated like enemies of IS.