A previous version of this story had a misspelled word in the headline.
A Catholic priest, Father François Murad, thought to have been beheaded by Syrian jihadist group Jabha123t al-Nusra in a viral video online, was actually shot dead in Gassanieh, according to a new report.
The Telegraph sought out three anonymous local sources who said that Father Murad, 49, "died when he was shot inside his church" on June 23 in Gassanieh. The graphic video footage of the beheading, which was reposted by Catholic Online via Live Leak, is now thought to be an older video that "bares [sic] no relation" to the death of Father Murad, the sources said.
News of Father Murad’s execution emerged over the weekend when a report from Catholic Online emerged, alleging the Franciscan priest was beheaded by Jabhat al-Nusra forces. The militants reportedly accused Father Murad of working with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime. On Sunday, the Vatican confirmed Father Murad was “killed in Hassanieh” but added, “the circumstances of the death are not fully understood.”
The video in question shows grainy, amateur footage of the beheading of three men, one of which was believed to be Father Murad, with a simple kitchen knife. A crowd of men watch the execution in the video, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while taking up-close photos and videos of the bloody scene. The video can be viewed here at Live Leak. (Warning: The video contains graphic content of the beheading.)
According to the Telegraph, the video in question “bares [sic] no relation to the death of the Catholic priest” since it is too grainy to identify Father Murad or the two other victims, thought to be another priest and a bishop. The British newspaper also said the group in the video, now assumed to be “Chechen rebels,” do not reference the priest directly but rather accuse the victims of being “shabiha,” or supporters of the Ba’ath Party government in Syria led by the Al-Assad regime.
The Vatican confirmed on Sunday that Father François Murad was killed by Syrian rebel forces in June but made no mention of how he died or of the beheading video.
“On Sunday, June 23 the Syrian priest François Murad was killed in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land, where he had taken refuge,” the statement to Catholic.org read. “This is confirmed by a statement of the Custos of the Holy Land sent to Fides Agency. The circumstances of the death are not fully understood. According to local sources, the monastery where Fr. Murad was staying was attacked by militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra.”
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Father Murad’s colleague in the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, confirmed that no Franciscan priests, specifically Murad, were executed in the viral video. "None of our priests have died in this manner. All our priests are alive. Reading the reports circulating in the media, I conclude that they have mixed up events," he told Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
Similarly, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch said it is “conducting an in-depth investigation” surrounding the video” but believes it was filmed “long before Father Francois was reportedly killed."
“Confusion may have arisen because of the appearance of this video around the same time the news came out that Father François had been killed,” HRW’s Peter Bouckaert told the Telegraph.
Father François Murad’s death was also reported June 25 in a press release from the Custody of the Holy Land, which said an Islamist group shot the Catholic priest dead. "Islamists attacked the monastery, ransacking it and destroying everything,” the statement read. “When Father François tried to resist, defending the nuns, rebels shot him.”