Claims that a Catholic priest has been beheaded by jihadist rebels in Syria are drawing new attention to the plight of Syrian Christians, caught in the middle of a brutal struggle and said by campaigners to face an existential threat.

Last week the Vatican reported that a Catholic priest, Francois Murad, had been killed by militants who attacked a monastery in northern Syria on Sunday, June 23. Citing a report by the Franciscan “Custodian of the Holy Land,” Vatican press services initially reported that the priest had been shot and killed while trying to defend nuns and others sheltering at the monastery of St. Anthony.

A subsequent Vatican Radio report said the circumstances of Murad’s death were “not fully understood,” and added that those who attacked the monastery were reported to be “militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusrah.”

Then on Saturday, Catholic Online pointed to a gruesome video clip that has been posted online, and identified Murad as one of three men who are seen being decapitated by rebel fighters, as dozens of onlookers cheer, chant “Allahu akbar” and take photos.

It isn’t the first video to emerge depicting rebels carrying out a beheading in Syria, but is believed to be the first in which a Christian was specifically targeted. Two Orthodox bishops from Aleppo, kidnapped by unidentified rebels last April, remain missing.

Jabhat al-Nusrah is an al-Qaeda front group viewed by regional experts as one of the most effective among the rebel formations fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Obama administration, which last December blacklisted al-Nusrah as a foreign terrorist organization, has agreed to supply weapons to anti-Assad rebels, stressing the U.S. will only support “moderates” in the opposition ranks.

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