13 nuns kidnapped by Syrian rebels in November have been released and arrived at the country's border on Sunday. The nuns arrived with three other workers from their convent and immediately praised God for their release.
"I'm in good health, thank God," one of the nuns told Reuters, leaving before she could give her name or other identifying information.
According to reports, the nuns and workers were taken in late November and held in Lebanon. The reason for the kidnapping is still unknown: some believe that it was to facilitate the release of Syrian women arrested by the government, but others believe that the nuns were taken from their monastery for their own safety.
The Christian minority in Syria tends to support President Bashar al-Assad and the government, fearing that they could be wiped out if he loses power or is overthrown by Islamists. The BBC speculated that the kidnapping could have been a warning to other Christians in the country, though that has not been confirmed. Only 10 percent of the country is Christian.
The group responsible for the kidnapping has been identified as militants from the Nusra Front, which is al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. The United States has designated Nusra Front a terrorist organization based on its ties to al Qaeda.
"The deal is for the release of 138 women from Assad's prisons," a rebel source said, according to Reuters.
A video of the kidnapped nuns appeared on Al Jazeera in December, showing that they were in good health and doing well. Sisters from the convent confirmed that they were not abused during their kidnapping and were thankful for their release.
"God did not leave us," Mother Pelagia Sayyaf, head of the Mar Takla monastery in Maaloula told the BBC. "The [al-Nusra] Front was good to us … but we took off our crosses because we were in the wrong place to wear them."