Jesuit murdered in Syria

A gunman in the Syrian city of Homs has shot and killed Dutch Jesuit Fr Frans van der Lugt. Citing a source in the Homs governorate, his death was reported by Syria's state news agency SANA, which said he had died immediately after being shot. The motive for the attack was unclear.

Fr Jan Stuyt SJ of the Jesuits in the Netherlands said this morning:  "I can confirm that he's been killed. A man came into his house, took him outside and shot him twice in the head. In the street in front of his house." He said he was not aware of particular threats to van der Lugt, adding that the priest would be buried in Syria "according to his wishes".

Fr Alex Bassili SJ of the Jesuits in the Near East and the Maghreb added: "This Monday morning at about 8 am, Father Frans van der Lugt has been abducted by armed men, who have beaten him and then executed by two bullets in the head, in front of our residence in Homs. May the Lord welcome him and support our companions who give themselves fully to the service of all the victims of violence."

Having arrived in Syria in 1966 after spending two years in Lebanon studying Arabic, Fr van der Lugt had gained renown for insisting on staying on in besieged Homs despite daily shelling and dwindling supplies. He had spent nearly five decades in Syria, and told a news agency in February that he considered the country to be his home. "The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties," he said.

He stayed on even as some 1,400 people were evacuated during a UN-supervised operation that began on February 7 and also saw limited supplies of food brought into the city."The faces of people you see in the street are weak and yellow. Their bodies are weakened and have lost their strength," Van der Lugt told AFP before the UN operation. "What should we do, die of hunger?"

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday 8 April), prayers will be said in a Vigil for Syria at Farm Street Church in London. Jesuit Fr Paolo dall'Oglio SJ who has been missing in Syria since July 2013 as well as the thousands of refugees caught up in the conflict will be remembered. Full details here.

This Al Jazeera report includes the video that Fr van der Lugt posted on YouTube.

In February, The Economist also carried a blog about him under the headline 'A Voice Crying in the Wilderness'. 

Further tributes to Fr van der Lugt can be found here.

Above: Fr van der Lugt is pictured with Sheikh Abu Harith al-Khalidi and a United Nations negotiator in Homs.