Al-Jazeera: 'Kidnappers' of Syrian Nuns Now Demanding Prisoner Swap

By Barbara Hollingsworth | February 12, 2014 | 12:36 PM EST



( –  A group of 12 Syrian nuns who were snatched from their convent in the ancient village of Maaloula in early December by rebels believed to belong to the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front are being held as hostages, according to a new video released Sunday by Al-Jazeera.

In another short video released December 6th, four days after the Greek Orthodox nuns and three other women went missing, they reportedly denied they had been kidnapped during one of the Syrian rebels’ attacks on the their village and thanked their captors for "protecting" them.

However, in the latest video, which was released February 5th, Al-Jazeera reports that “the kidnappers are demanding the release of women held in Syrian prisons to set the nuns free,” according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Although the Feb. 5th video provides no clue as to where the nuns are being held captive, Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanon-based satellite channel, reports that they are under guard in a private residence.

The nuns are not heard speaking in the video. However, a commentator reportedly says “they are in good health, [and] haven’t been mistreated.”

The commentator goes on to say that the nuns “thank all those who are seeking to obtain their release and call for the release of all prisoners” currently being held in Syrian prisons, AFP reports.

Calling the nuns’ kidnapping “a disgrace to the world,” Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai said that efforts to release them have stalled. “We have made multiple contacts with several international sides and the nuns’ release was imminent, but the issue stumbled again,” the cardinal said on his way to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis.

On December 2nd, the nuns were taken from the Mar Takla convent in Maaloula, an ancient Christian-majority town 40 miles northeast of Damascus where the people still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ. Two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria are in Maaloula.

The nuns’ kidnapping prompted Pope Francis, Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi, and Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s ambassador to Syria, to call for their release.