ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Hundreds packed into an Allentown church Sunday to remember a local activist gunned down in war-torn Syria.
Mourners came to St. George Orthodox Church in Allentown for a memorial service for Nick Mouhrez of Catasauqua, Lehigh County.
A sniper reportedly gunned down the well-known community organizer outside Damascus last Wednesday.
Relatives said Mouhrez was in the country attempting to broker a peace deal.
"When it comes home, that's when you really feel it," said relative Richard Koury. "We all know what's going on, but until something happens to somebody you know -- a friend or relative -- it's somewhat removed."
Syria's long-running civil war has now claimed more than 170,000 lives.
The conflict pits President Bashar al-Assad, who some international groups have labelled a dictator, against violent anti-government rebel groups.
Mouhrez, like most of the Lehigh Valley's Christian Syrians, was an outspoken Assad supporter. He was instrumental in organizing last year's rallies protesting American intervention in Syria.
"He was very important to the community around here," said longtime friend Basem Wakim. "We all know we have a big Syrian population around here, and he was very important to us."
"Nick was a friend to all of us," added Iyad Younes, a longtime friend of Mouhrez's.
Mouhrez's family said a sniper gunned him down while he was travelling in a car travelling to Damascus.
His niece was also injured by shrapnel. In spite of Mouhrez's outspoken political views, his family believes the attack was random.
"It appears to be random -- at least, we think so," said Koury. "Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Still, this pro-regime group blames anti-government rebels for creating an atmosphere of terror.
"You can't make peace with terrorists," said Wakim. "Yes, we support the Syrian government, but no, there's no peace with them."
Sunday's service came one day after Mouhrez was buried in his hometown in Syria.
His wife and sister will remain there for the next several weeks, according to Koury, trying to piece together exactly what happened to him there.
Allentown, PA 18102