Bombs planted in confessional box of Syrian church

Colin Freeman – 17/10/13

Patriarch Gregorios III, Syria’s most senior Christian leader, says bombs were   found at ancient Cathedral of Constantine and Helen in rebel-held town of   Yabroud.

Bombs have been planted in the confessional box of one of the world’s oldest   churches in a Syrian   town hailed as the country’s last remaining centre of religious tolerance,   Syria’s most senior Christian leader has disclosed.

On a visit to London to highlight the persecution of Christians in the civil   war, Patriarch Gregorios III said the two devices were found at the   Cathedral of Constantine and Helen in the rebel-held town of Yabroud.

Not only is the church one of the oldest in the world, but it lies in a town   where Christians and Sunni Muslims have so far resisted efforts by   al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups to drive a wedge between them.

As   The Telegraph reported on a visit to Yabroud earlier this month, a   self-appointed local council has tried to keep both foreign jihadists and   local mafia gangs at bay, as well as government forces. Only last week the   Syrian army shelled the church.

The Patriarch said that early on Tuesday morning, two remote controlled bombs   were discovered planted in the church, one of them in the confessional box.   Challenging the town’s image of harmony, he also claimed that local    Christian families had been asked to pay a monthly protection tax of $35,000   by local “armed groups”.

“Yabroud is under the control of armed groups, and Christians are asked   for protection money, yet in spite of this, there are these bombs being   placed in the church,” he said.

He added that in the event of a rebel victory in the country’s civil war, life   for Christians could get even harder because of the hardline Islamist   elements in the anti-government ranks.

“The extremists are against even the normal rebel opposition,” he   said.

“This is an issue for Muslims as well as Christians. I am not afraid from   Islam, I am just afraid of chaos, which will allow these groups to play a   very destructive role.”

The patriarch was speaking as part of event organised by Aid to the Church in   Need, a Catholic charity that supports Christians facing persecution around   the world. In a new report, it has highlighted particular concerns about the   Christian minority in Syria, who are at risk from al-Qaeda factions in the   rebel movement fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

While many of al-Qaeda’s Sunni Muslim extremists are far keener on persecuting   Shia Muslims, the sect to which President Assad belongs, Christians are   perceived to be a target as part of the “Crusader” religion.

Predominant in the Syrian middle class, they are also seen to have prospered   under President Assad’s regime, inviting accusations of being collaborators.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced during the fighting in the last two   years, with around 1,000 killed, the Patriarch said, although he added that   more Muslims had died during the war so far than Christians.

“Some people are saying that we Christians are the friends of the regime,   but we are not, we are just ordinary Syrians, and we pray for all,” he   added. “Besides, even if we are for the regime, that is our right as    free people.”