Syria: Nusra Front attack Christian village
Jihadist forces of the Nusra Front launched an attack Sept. 4 on the ancient Christian village of Maaloula (Rif Dimashq governorate), which is on the UNESCO tentative list of world heritage sites. The assault began as a suicide bomber blew himself up at the army checkpoint at the village entrance, overwhelming the defenses. Nusra fighters briefly occupied the village, surrounding the church and mosque, before being driven out by reinforcements. Fighting is said to continue outside the village, with fears that the Nusra Front could establish footholds in the surrounding mountains and shell Maaloula from above. Maaloula, some 60 kilometers northeast of Damascus, is home to about 2,000 residents, mostly Aramaic-speaking Greek Catholics (Melikites). Aramaic is listed by UNESCO as a "definitely endangered" language.
Followers of the smaller Assyrian and Antiochian Orthodox Christian churches, also Aramaic-speaking, have been repeatedly attacked by jihadist forces in Hasakah and Raqqah governorates further north, with churches and shops bombed and looted. (See map.) (AP, Sept. 5; AINA, Aug. 2; Christians of Iraq, April 14, 2009)