Syrian Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox church in Aleppo, has been missing since 22 April 2013.

Five years since the disappearance of two Syrian bishops, the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Beirut says “all available evidence and indications encourage continued optimism” that they may yet be alive and one day released.

However, its statement added that “all the efforts that have been made to obtain even a single thread in this case have failed”.

Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and his counterpart from the Greek Orthodox Church, Boulos Yazigi, were kidnapped from the car in which they were travelling by armed men believed to be of Chechen origin, on 22 April 2013. Their driver, Fathallah Kaboud, was later killed.

The bishops were on their way to the Turkish border in an attempt to secure the release of two other kidnapped priests from Aleppo – Fr. Michel Kayyal, an Armenian Catholic, and Fr. Maher Mahfouz, who is Greek Orthodox – who are also still missing.

The head of the Lebanese General Security, General Abbas Ibrahim, reportedly made contact with the kidnappers six months after their abduction, but there has been precious little news about any of the clerics since their disappearance – only rumours that governments such as Qatar and Russia have petitioned for their release.

Last April, at the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Bishops Ibrahim and Yazigi, the chairman of the commission in charge of the search for the church leaders, Syriac Orthodox Bishop Daniel Kourie, said that as far as he knew “the two bishops are still alive” and “those who believe otherwise must give us evidence for their claim”.

In May 2014, Turkey arrested a man, Magomed Abdurrahmanov, suspected of the kidnapping, but let him go, saying he had been caught with improper documents and deported. However, documents that World Watch Monitor saw provided evidence that Turkey’s internal security network knew before his arrest that Abdurrahmanov was suspected of the kidnapping.

Call for action

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) has called for prayer and action to see the release of the church leaders.

“The CEC stands in solidarity with the affected churches, who have experienced five years of uncertainty and suffering. We would like to remind churches in Europe to pray and advocate for the release of the two bishops,” said CEC General Secretary Fr. Heikki Huttunen in a statement.

“CEC also encourages prayer and action for all those who have suffered kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonments and persecution for their faith, ethnicity or political persuasion in Syria.”