Washington, D.C. (August 17, 2012) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Congressman Gus Bilirakis introduced a resolution on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on August 2 that would protect Christians and other minorities in Syria. The Christian community, caught in the middle of a showdown between opposition forces and the Syrian army, is under attack by Islamist rebel groups and fears that the persecution of religious minorities will increase if President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown.
In response to the escalating persecution of religious minorities in Syria, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced H.Res 763 which condemns the targeting of vulnerable religious minorities and predicates future U.S. policies on the security of these communities. The resolution follows reports indicating that Islamic extremism is on the rise in a civil war that is taking on increasingly stronger sectarian overtones. For example, a recently released video shows masked men, who claim to belong to the Free Syrian Army, holding AK-47s in front of two Al Qaeda flags. “We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of Allah,” said a speaker in the video.
Religious minority groups have become a primary target of Al Qaeda-linked rebels and other Islamists who are executing attacks in “the name of Allah.” Recent threats and killings of Syria’s Christian minority include:
- The murder of a Christian family in the Damascus neighborhood of Bab Tuma on July 23 by rebels belonging to the group Liwa al-Islam (meaning “The Brigade of Islam”).
- The flight of thousands of Christians from the city of Qusayr in June after an ultimatum to leave the city was issued by a rebel commander.
- The evacuation of 63 Christians from Homs on July 11. Maximos al-Jamal, a Greek Orthodox priest, said rebels had kept the Christians in the city as bargaining chips and that, “Gunmen [had] told the besieged people that if [they] go out of these areas, [they] will die.” According to al-Jamal, thousands of Christians had lived in Homs prior to Syria’s uprising early last year, but today, only 100 Christian civilians remain.
To improve the security of Christians, H.Res 763 calls upon the U.S. Secretary of State to prioritize the safety of vulnerable minorities by ensuring that U.S. policies will promote religious freedom in Syria. Additionally, future aid would be preconditioned on Syria’s fulfillment of its obligation to protect religious minorities and human rights.
“The violence in Syria has affected the entire country, with accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings committed by both the Assad government and rebel forces,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “Members of religious minority communities including Christians, Ezidis, and Mandaeans are caught in the middle of this violence. These communities lack a means to protect themselves and are susceptible to pressure from all sides of the conflict, as well as targeted retaliatory attacks and displacements.”
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While ICC condemns in the strongest terms the Syrian government’s assault on protesters, we are also gravely concerned about the Islamist agenda of the Free Syrian Army and other rebel forces that are increasingly targeting the Christian community. The longer the civil war carries on in Syria, the more jihadists—including those that were fighting with Al Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq—will join the opposition against the regime. Islamic extremists are hijacking the Syrian revolution and are quickly gaining control. While there is no easy political solution to the Syrian conflict, it must be a U.S. priority to protect minorities. We call on U.S. policymakers and legislators to support H.Res 763, which condemns the targeting of vulnerable religious groups in Syria and insures that policies will safeguard these communities. Time is of the essence. For the U.S. government to stand by and do nothing is not an option. The future of Syria’s ancient Christian community is at stake.”