In the car with Fathallah were Bishop John Ibrahim and Bishop Boulos Yazigi.
Bishop Yazigi, brother of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, had decided only hours before to join Bishop Ibrahim on this trip, an attempt to secure the release of two priests who had been kidnapped. Over the previous year, Bishop Ibrahim had negotiated the release of nearly two dozen hostages. Clergy had frequently been successful in Syria (as elsewhere in the Middle East) in negotiating the release of kidnapping victims — not only Christians but also Muslims, who often have as much to fear from the Islamist militants as do Christians.
The year before this fateful car ride, in the summer of 2012, the battle of Aleppo began. Foreign jihadists were already flocking to Syria, many of them war-hardened men from Central Asia and the Caucasus — among them Chechens who found in Syria a familiar maelstrom of blood and chaos in which they could thrive. The predominantly Islamist rebel factions are affiliated, ideologically if not organizationally, with al-Qaeda. These fighters are supported by the Sunni Gulf Arab states, which are eager to overthrow the Alawi regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran. They bring with them a new breed of barbarism.
By way of fear and a reputation for success, they have attracted young fighters to their ranks, frightening entire Free Syrian Army (FSA) units into abandoning their posts and weapons, which have now fallen into the hands of Islamists. The FSA commander fled the country altogether. The latest American experiment, which the FSA most assuredly was, has now failed abysmally. The U.S. subsequently made overtures to the Islamic Front, not yet designated a terrorist organization, only to be rejected by the Islamists. Assad’s government has called the overtures “reprehensible.” Ruthless sociopathic butchers who make Osama bin Laden appear civilized by comparison now dominate the rebel faction. Behind black masks, with affected religiosity and Arabic pseudonyms, they daily terrorize Syria’s civilian population, Muslim and Christian alike.
It was into the hands of such men that Fathallah and the bishops were traveling. Unarmed, they went bound only by a sense of duty to the helpless kidnapping victims — an act of extraordinary courage that is difficult to comprehend.
According to one report, at the first checkpoint, manned by Syrian rebels from Aleppo, Fathallah and the bishops were permitted to pass. But moments later, a Suburban descended on them, cutting them off. Fathallah brought the car to a halt. Several men dressed in Central Asian attire got out and approached, brandishing Kalashnikov-series rifles. According to one account, none of the gunmen, allegedly all Chechens, even spoke Arabic. After several minutes, Fathallah was taken at gunpoint from the scene to an abandoned factory nearby. There, he was executed at gunpoint: another civilian casualty in Syria’s brutal war. The fate of Bishop Ibrahim and Bishop Yazigi remains unknown.