While the Western world debates the US air strike on Syria, one issue that has largely been ignored is how this impacts on Christians and other minorities who were already being specifically targeted not just by Islamic State but also by other jihadist groups.
Jayash al Islam, who in January 2015 threatened Christians and other non-Muslims in Damascus, and Ahrar al Sham, who carried out the 2013 attack on the nearby predominantly Christian town of Maaloula, have both put out press statements welcoming the air strikes on the Syrian regime. Ahrar al Sham said they “welcome US intervention through surgical strikes”, while Jaysh al Islam urged further US strikes saying “hitting one air base is not enough”. Both groups aspire to create a radical Islamic state in Syria and, despite having committed serious atrocities, neither are currently listed as terrorist organisations by international bodies. This is something that Barnabas Aid has in the last few months been quietly pushing various governmental bodies to do.
During the 2013 attack on Maaloula, Christians were given the choice of being beheaded or converting to Islam. Significantly, the attack happened on 4 September, the very day the US Congress began voting to authorise air strikes in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. At the time Reuters suggested that the attack on Maaloula, one of the most ancient Christian towns in the Middle East, which had no strategic value, was a direct response to jihadist groups feeling emboldened by the prospect of a US air strike on the Syrian government.
There is therefore now a serious danger that history will repeat itself with further attacks by jihadists on Christians. As we report elsewhere jihadists often attack Christians over the Easter period, so this is a particularly vulnerable time for Christians in Syria.