Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) jihadists have released a video showing bulldozers plowing through the ruins of the historic Christian Syrian monastery of Mar Elian, located in al-Qaryatain in the Syrian province of Homs. They also desecrated the monastery’s cemetery, unearthing graves with their machinery.
Before razing the fifth-century building, ISIS militiamen transferred dozens of captured Christians to their strongholds in the northeast of the country. The monastery of Mar Elian was dedicated to Saint Elian, the son of a Roman officer killed by his father in 284 AD for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.
Qaryatain is located at a strategic point near the road linking the ancient city of Palmyra with the Qalamoun mountains, along the border with Lebanon, in an area rich in deposits. After seizing the town in early August, the jihadists kidnapped 230 civilians, including at least 60 Christians and a number of women and children. Of these, 48 were released, while 110 were transferred to the province of Raqqa, the heart of the Islamic State. The fate of the other 70 hostages is still unknown.
According to reports, after the raid, al-Qaryatain’s Christian population had dropped from 300 to only 180 people.
Rami Abdel Rahman, chief of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that those abducted were wanted by IS for “collaborating with the regime,” and their names were on a list used by the jihadists as they swept through the town.
Families who tried to flee or hide were tracked down and taken by the jihadists, he said.
In May, ISIS fighters kidnapped the prior of the 1500-year-old monastery of Mar Elian, Syrian Christian priest Jacques Mourad. Father Mourad had worked for years to promote dialogue and rapprochement between Islam and Christianity, and the monastery itself was considered a place of rest and refreshment, open to all visitors. With the onset of the civil war, it had welcomed and protected thousands of refugees, both Christians and Muslims.
“We build to serve the poor, to teach Muslim and Christian children, so that hope may not be lost; we want to remain a sign of hope for the rest of the parish and for everyone else,” said Father Mourad at an event organized for children in collaboration with the Islamic community.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.