Kidnap of bishops in Syria 'a big crime'

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Thursday that the kidnapping of two bishops in Syria is "a big crime," adding that his country is making efforts to secure the release of the two senior clerics.

Aleppo's Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yaziji and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim were kidnapped on Monday by armed men en route to the northern city of Aleppo from the Turkish border.

"As far as we are concerned, the kidnap of the two bishops in Syria is a big crime," Bogdanov told reporters during a short visit to Beirut.

"It is an issue that concerns everyone in Syria, including society, the leadership and of course the church," he added, speaking after a meeting with Orthodox associations in Lebanon.

No group has claimed responsibility for the crime, but sources at the Greek Orthodox Church have said the kidnappers are "Chechen jihadists."

Russia is a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime also blamed Chechen fighters for the kidnap.

"We, the Russian state, along with the Orthodox Church, will make all efforts necessary to secure the release of the hostages in Syria, and also to solve the country's crisis," Bogdanov said.

Christians account for around five percent of Syria's population, and have become increasingly vulnerable to attack and abductions in the lawlessness that has engulfed much of the country since March 2011.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis appealed for their release.