Syrian nuns freed by militant captors

Three months of captivity end safely

A group of Christian nuns held in Syria for the last three months by Islamist rebels have been freed.

At midnight on March 9-10, news came through from the town of Arsal a Lebanese border town that the nuns, abducted from their convent of St Thecla in Maalula on December 3, had  been the subject of a coordinated handover from members of the al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria. In all, 13 religious sisters and three assistants were freed.

That freedom, it is now being reported, came as a result of an agreement for the release of some 150 women and children held by the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

In a convoluted sequence of events, the 13 nuns were escorted by their rebel captors from Syria into Lebanon by a cross the group controls. Then, having met with the negotiators who secured their release, the sisters were taken back into Syria via an army checkpoint and on to Damascus and the Greek Orthodox patriarchate there.

Speaking of their ordeal, the nuns stated they had been treated well throughout their captivity. "God did not leave us," said Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, head of the group.

It has been revealed that one of those engaged in negotiating the nuns’ release was Lebanon’s security chief General Abbas Ibrahim, who is also involved for the searches for kidnapped clerics Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yaziji and Syrian Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Jesuit Fr Paolo dall'Oglio. General Ibrahim has spoken previously of his conviction that the clerics remain alive and in captivity.