Syria opposition blames regime
for bishop kidnappings

Syria's opposition condemned on Tuesday the kidnapping of two Orthodox Christian bishops seized in the north of the country, and blamed the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for their capture.


"Efforts... to uncover the identities of the clerics' kidnappers and to liberate them indicate that the Syrian regime is responsible for the kidnapping, and [the] killing of Bishop Yuhanna Ibrahim's driver," said the National Coalition.


Ibrahim, the head of Aleppo's Syriac Orthodox diocese and Bishop Boulos Yazigi, head of the Greek Orthodox diocese in the same city, were kidnapped on Monday near the Turkish border, according to sources in both dioceses.


"The National Coalition denounces the kidnappings... as well as all kidnappings and assaults against the civilian population, especially clerics," the umbrella opposition group said in a statement.


"The [rebel] Free Syrian Army has categorically denied responsibility for the kidnappings."


The Coalition, which has been recognized by dozens of governments and holds Syria's seat at the Arab League, said Ibrahim had angered the Assad regime.


"A lot of evidence shows that the regime was angry because of Father Ibrahim's recent statements, in which he said the survival of Christians in Syria is not linked to the survival of the regime," it said.


State news agency SANA reported the kidnapping on Monday night, saying an "armed terrorist group" kidnapped the men in the village of Kafr Dael in Aleppo province.


Church sources on Tuesday blamed Chechen fighters for the kidnappings.


Syria's religious affairs ministry said "there is evidence that those who kidnapped the bishops were Chechen mercenaries working under the leadership of Al-Nusra Front".


Al-Nusra, a jihadist group fighting to oust the Assad regime, has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.


Christians account for around five percent of Syria's population, and have become increasingly vulnerable to attack and abductions in the lawlessness that has engulfed much of the country since March 2011.


Assad's regime has warned since early in the two-year conflict that the country's minorities would be at the mercy of intolerant, radical Islamists if it collapsed.

The National Coalition denounces the kidnappings.