Mystery deepens over Jesuit snatched in Syria
Contradictions follow contradictions on fate of priest
- June 13, 2014
Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall'Oglio is alive, according to a Syrian-Iranian source in Lebanon which claims an ''Italian delegation'' met with him. The report on Wednesday, one of many contradictory claims on the priest's fate made over the past few months, was published by Lebanese daily al Akhbar, a mouthpiece of the pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah which says it is fighting al Qaeda in Syria alongside the troops of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
The priest disappeared from northern Syria almost a year ago.
After being ''re-elected'' a few days ago, Assad has presented himself more than ever as the most trustworthy protector of Christians in the Middle East and as the best solution against al Qaeda which is gaining ground across a wide area from Mesopotamia to the Orontes. The Beirut daily, which did not quote any source, said that a month ago an ''Italian delegation met'' the priest together with his abductors and spoke with him for about two hours.
The Italian foreign ministry and intelligence service say they are not aware of such a meeting taking place. Dall'Oglio's family and the Jesuit Curia say they cannot confirm or deny the report because they have had no news.
A number of reports have suggested that Dall'Oglio has been held by al Qaeda militants controlling the northern region of Raqqa since his abduction on July 29, 2013. Since then, conflicting claims have been made on his alleged death or his good health conditions.
According to Akhbar, the meeting between the ''Italian delegation'' and the Roman Jesuit took place in the northern region of Raqqa at the border with Turkey, near the border crossing of Tal Abyad.
Dall'Oglio had travelled to Raqqa, held by al Qaeda-linked militants, shortly before disappearing, for a delicate mediation with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) for the release of some Syrian activists. Well-informed sources with Italy's security services noted that al Akhbar ''is not reliable'' and said efforts to take the priests back home are continuing.
Nevertheless, al Akhbar appears to have privileged contacts with ISIS militants: over the past few days, the Lebanese daily stated that two Syrian Orthodox bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi, who disappeared from north-west Syria in April 2013, were in Tal Abyad and were being held by the same al Qaeda militants detaining dall'Oglio. This detail is far from marginal as al Akhbar's report on Wednesday also cited the names of the two Orthodox high prelates.
Hezbollah's newspaper states, as if suggesting a possible solution, that the ''Italian delegation'' discussed various options with the abductors, including the possibility of releasing the Syrian bishops as part of the agreement.