Opposition fighters in Syria move 12 nuns from captured village

The Mar Takla Christian Orthodox monastery in the Syrian town of Maaloula where 12 nuns were reportedly taken by Syrian rebels on Monday. AFP - Getty Images, file

Opposition fighters in Syria have taken 12 nuns from a predominantly Christian village near Damascus and moved them to a rebel-held town, the mother superior of a Syrian convent said Tuesday.

The statement by the mother superior, Febronia Nabhan of Saidnaya convent, came as Syrian state TV reported that a suicide attacker set off his explosive vest in an unspecified government institution in Damascus, killing four people and wounding 17. Syrian TV gave no further details about the blast.

Blasts in Damascus are not uncommon in the almost three-year-long civil war in Syria. Some have killed scores of people.

Nabhan said Tuesday that the nuns and three other women were taken the day before from another convent, in the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula, and moved to the nearby town of Yabroud. The Vatican ambassador to Syria said it was not clear whether the nuns had been kidnapped or evacuated for their safety.

Nabhan told The Associated Press that the Maaloula convent's mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her later that day and said they were all "fine and safe."

Syrian rebels captured large parts of Maaloula, 40 miles northeast of the capital, on Monday after three days of fighting.

The state news agency SANA had reported Monday that six nuns, including Sayaf, were trapped in a convent in Maaloula.

In September, rebels seized parts of Maaloula only to be driven out within a few days by government forces.

Maaloula was a major tourist attraction before the conflict began in March 2011. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, a biblical language believed to have been spoken by Jesus.

— The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.