CBN News has learned Islamic State gunmen in Syria opened fire on a car carrying Armenian Christian leaders on Monday, killing two priests and wounding a deacon.
International Christian Concern reports the attack on the vehicle took place as the three church officials were traveling from the Syrian city of Qamishli to Deir ez-Zor.
ISIS's official Amaq media outlet claimed responsibility, saying, "Two Christian priests were killed today, ISIS shot them down."
In addition, three nearly simultaneous car bombings occurred in the city of Qamishli, which is well known for its religious and ethnic diversity. One of the explosions occurred near a Chaldean church.
The Armenian church leaders were traveling to Deir ez-Zor to inspect an Armenian Catholic Church which has suffered damage due to the Syrian conflict. Father Hanna Bidu, also known as Father Abrahim Petoyan, was killed instantly during the attack. His son, known as Father Hovsep Petoyan, reportedly succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. The deacon, Fati Sano from the Armenian al-Hassakeh Church, was wounded.
"(An) armed group at the entrance of the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor was targeting a car that was carrying the father," reported the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights. "This armed group targeted and killed the priest and his father, while the third person was injured. The Father and his companions were headed to Deir ez-Zor city this Monday morning on a mission to follow the status of the Armenian Catholic Church."
The incident was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Video footage obtained by Hawar News shows that the car used by the priests had a special tag in its front window which acknowledged that it was traveling for business with the Armenian Catholic Church. The video shows significant frontal damage to the vehicle, placing the two front-seat occupants within a direct line of fire.
"Pastor of the Armenian Catholic Community of Qamishli, Priest Hovsep Petoyan, and his father, Priest Abraham Petoyan, were traveling in a vehicle en route to Deir ez-Zor when terrorists opened gunfire on their car and killed them," the Armenian Press reported. "The Armenian Catholic priests were heading to inspect the condition of the Catholic Church."
ISIS was officially declared militarily defeated in Syria this past March. However, reprisal attacks following the October death of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi in Syria were expected. Turkey's invasion of northern Syria also prompted fears that it would allow opportunities for ISIS militants to take advantage of the resulting chaos. This is the first deadly incident since its military defeat in which ISIS has successfully targeted church leaders in the Levant.
"Today's violence in northern Syria and the targeting of Armenian leadership is a tragedy that deeply wounds the region's entire Christian community," said Claire Evans, ICC's regional manager for the Middle East. "Christians have long warned that ISIS will seek every opportunity to continue its genocide against religious minorities."
"Meanwhile, Turkey's actions in the area have generated an environment of instability. Armenian Christians, whose ancestors were killed by Turkey's genocide, find themselves caught between violent actors across all of Syria," she continued. "We must keep the Christian community of Syria in our prayers, and urge for an end to this senseless conflict."