Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who was expelled from Syria and later kidnapped, might still be alive despite reports last week that he was killed by rebels linked to terrorist group al Qaeda.
Reuters reported that British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had initially said last week that Dall'Oglio was killed at the hands of Islamist rebels, but those reports have been disputed by local sources that are believed to be close to the Islamic State in Iraq, which is Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate.
The Jesuit priest was expelled from Syria last year after 30 years of service there, helping to unite Christians and Muslims against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He had also helped restore a 1,000-year-old Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, or Deir Mar Musa, and was a popular figure in Damascus.
"I am very moved by the face of many youth that have been suffering enormously to achieve their desire of freedom and dignity," Dall'Oglio said when he was giving his goodbyes to friends and supporters in the country. "There are so many young persons that are put in jail and tortured, just because they have expressed, nonviolently, their opinions."
According to reports, the priest disappeared in the rebel-held city of Raqqa on July 29, after crossing from Turkey to Syria to negotiate a truce with Kurdish brigades.
Reuters noted that the Observatory has called Dall'Oglio's captors to produce evidence that he is still alive. Emails from The Christian Post to the Observatory asking for updates were not returned by press time.
The civil war that has gripped Syria has led to the deaths of over 100,000 people to date, and has forced 1.9 million refugees to flee the country. Attempts by the U.N. and other international bodies to broker a peace agreement between government loyalists and rebel fighters have so far been unsuccessful.