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Masked gunman brutally executes Jesuit priest in Syria

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica
The dome of St. Peter's Basilica
Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

A 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest, Francis Van Der Lugt, was executed in the Syrian city of Homs on Monday by an unidentified gunman. He was in the same order as Pope Francis.

The Vatican said he was abducted and beaten before being shot twice in the head. The secretary of the Dutch Jesuit order Father Jan Stuyt, said Van Der Lugt was on good terms with the country's Muslim majority.

Stuyt told the news agency Agence France-Presse by phone: "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."

The Associated Press reports that Rev. Ziad Hillal said it was a single gunman who walked into the monastery, entered the garden and shot him in the head.

In a phone interview from Homs with Vatican Radio Hillal said, "I am truly shocked. A man of peace has been murdered." The Kansas City Star reports Van Der Lugt's bodyguard, who was assigned to him by rebel Free Syrian Army, was wounded in the attack.

SANA, Syria's state run news agency, blames "terrorists" for the priest's death but offered no details. Syrian's main opposition bloc blamed Assad and called the killing a "criminal act." The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition issued a statement that read:

We hold the regime ultimately responsible for this crime, as the only beneficiary of Father Francis' death.

Some believe Van Der Lugt was executed by the Assad regime for his condemnation concerning the blockade of Homs. The Syrian government launched a punishing crackdown on that city that has lasted for over a year. The blockade has prevented food and medicine from reaching the area. Van Der Lugt refused to leave the city until all Christians were evacuated.

On Jan. 25, Van Der Lugt posted on a Syrian Christian Facebook group page about the blockade he said: "Hunger defeated us! We can see its signs drawn over the faces."

In a statement, published in both English and French he said: "People are wandering the streets screaming; We are starving, we need food! We are living a scary reality. Human beings turn into wild animals living in the wild."

Van Der Lugt's order said he had been living in Syria for more than 40 years. They spoke of his dedication in "sharing the suffering of the ordinary citizens he’d lived alongside."

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi called Van Der Lugt:

"A man of peace, who with great courage had wanted to remain faithful, in an extremely risky and difficult situation, to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated, for a long time, his life and spiritual service.

Where people die, their faithful shepherds also die with them. In this time of great sorrow, we express our participation in prayer, but also great pride and gratitude for having had a brother so close to the most suffering in the testimony of the love of Jesus to the end.”

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