It is a daring escapade like something out of a Second World War adventure film. But the hero is not your usual tough guy in uniform - he is a modest, middle-aged Catholic priest.
For five months this year, Father Jacques Mourad, a Syrian Christian priest, was held captive by ISIS terrorists who razed his monastery of Mar-Elian to the ground. He was one of two hundred and fifty Christian prisoners held by the jihadists near the town of Qaryatayn about sixty miles from Palmyra, where the rebels have taken control.
Father Mourad is the abbot of his Catholic community, which during the past two years has given shelter and food to hundreds of refugees from the war zone, Christian and Muslim alike. They took in all who had lost their homes or were in danger and came to them for help. That gained them no leniency at all from the ISIS fighters when they arrived in the region in April. They captured Father Mourad, took prisoner all those they found in the monastery, about 230 people of whom sixty were Christians, and then destroyed it with a bulldozer.
When he was first seized, on 21st May, Father Mourad was kept locked in a car, in a remote spot in the mountains, for four days. The rebels then transferred him to Raqqa for three months, before taking him on 11th August to a place near Palmyra, where he was held with about 250 other Christians. Every day, his captors would come to him and demand that he signed a document agreeing to convert to Islam. If he did not, he was warned that he would have his throat cut. Even faced with such threats, Father Mourad refused and went on refusing. He assumed that he was going to die very soon, any day. Staring death in the face, he felt strangely calm and at peace. He thought to himself that he would be just one more out of the countless thousands of martyrs who had died for his beliefs, and if it had to be, then he was completely resigned to it.
Then help came out of the blue. A friend found out where he was and managed to talk and trick his way into the camp on some pretext. He smuggled two ISIS uniforms in with him, one for himself and one for Father Mourad. Dressed all in black with balaclavas and weapons, they sneaked out past the guards and escaped on a motorbike to Zeydal, near to Homs.
Father Mourad is still there, and working together with an Orthodox priest and various friends, both Bedouin and Muslim, to try to rescue the other prisoners who are still being held in his place of captivity.