Iraqi Priest Freed Two Weeks After Kidnapping by Islamist Militants

An Iraqi priest kidnapped by militants in Syria has been released, it has been confirmed, nearly two weeks after his abduction.

In a short statement released late on Monday, the Custody of the Holy Land said Father Dhyia Aziz "has been liberated and ... he is doing well."

"Due to confidentiality reasons we cannot give further details," the statement continued. "We thank all those who helped us to liberate him."

Fr. Aziz, a Franciscan priest originally from Mosul but working in Idlib province, Syria, was abducted on December 23 while returning to his village from Turkey, where he had been visiting relatives.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the current superior of the Custody of the Holy Land, previously confirmed to Asia News that Fr. Aziz had been kidnapped, though he did not know "who did it or even if he is still alive."

Yakubiyah village, where Fr. Aziz works, is surrounded by conflict. "Many groups are active in that area, affiliated with various factions and without coordination among themselves, each on its own, so it is difficult to understand who did it," Fr. Pizzaballa said.

December was the second time that Fr. Aziz had been kidnapped. On July 4 last year, he was abducted by militants and released five days later. A number of priests have been taken by assailants in Syria since the outbreak of conflict in 2011, either by ISIS or other militant groups.

Speaking to Vatican Radio following Fr. Aziz's releae, Fr. Pizzaballa said: "The situation remains very grave and dramatic in Syria, though we are doubtless happy and relieved that Fr. Dhiya has been released."

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