THE Vatican has confirmed the brutal beheading of a Catholic priest by Syrian rebels.
A disturbingly graphic video showing the priest being decapitated by jihadists was posted online.
It has now been confirmed that Fr Francois Murad (49), inset, was butchered and his killers apparently used a kitchen knife for the beheading.
According to a report from Catholic Online, Fr Murad was beheaded in northern Syria on June 23 while setting up a monastery in Gassanieh.
Forces from Jabhat al-Nusra – or the Nusra Front, which is fighting in Syria to oust President Bashar Assad – apparently accused Fr Murad of working with the regime.
An extremely graphic video from Live Leak reposted by Catholic Online showed amateur footage of Fr Murad's execution as dozens of spectators chanted.
In the grainy film footage, a man believed to be Fr Murad is first seen sitting with his hands bound before being beheaded with a simple kitchen knife. Onlookers, chanting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great"), can be seen in the footage photographing and capturing the horrific scene.
The statement from the Vatican said that the group had the backing of al-Qa'ida.
Vatican Radio reported that the mostly Christian village in the province of Idlib has been under attack by Islamist rebels for the past few weeks.
Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told the news agency that the monastery of St Anthony, which was "the only safe area" for Fr Murad and several other Christians, was attacked when Fr Murad tried to resist the militants.
"Unfortunately Syria has now become a battleground not only between Syrian forces, but also between Arab countries and the international community," he said. "And those paying the price are the poor, the young and the Christians. That the international community must put a stop to all this."
The official report into Fr Murad's death – submitted via the Fides news agency – states he died in Gassanieh, northern Syria. It claims the circumstances of his death "are not fully clear", but confirms the monastery where he was living had been attacked by militants.
Fides states Fr Murad had began the construction of a coenobitic monastery in Gassanieh, shortly after being ordained. At the start of the civil war, the structure was bombed and he moved to the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land for safety.