IS fighters abduct dozens of Christians in Syria

IS fighters abduct dozens of Christians in Syria
The Islamic State group have taken between 70 and 100 Assyrians captive as fighting continues to rage in the area.
3 min read
24 February, 2015
IS has repeatedly targeted religious minorities and ransacked churches [AFP]

Militants from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) have abducted at least 70 Christians, including women and children, after over-running a string of villages in northeastern Syria, activists and relatives said on Tuesday.

The latest assault began before dawn on Monday, when the fighters swept through the villages nestled along the banks of the Khabur River near the town of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh province.

The area is predominantly inhabited by Assyrians, an indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians.

During the raids, the militants took between 70 and 100 Assyrians captive, said Nuri Kino, the head of activist group A Demand For Action, which focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East.

He said some 3,000 people managed to flee the onslaught and have sought refuge in the cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli.

     Landlines have been cut, their mobiles are closed. Are they still alive? We're searching for any news.
- Beirut-based relative of villagers

Kino said his organisation based its information on conversations with villagers who fled the attack and their relatives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition monitoring group, also reported the abductions, but put the number of Christians held by the Islamic State group at 90. The Observatory relies on a network of activists inside Syria.

Struggling for information

Both groups said that most captives came from the village of Tal Shamiram, located some 85 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of the provincial capital, Qamishli.

An Assyrian Christian woman from Tal Shamiram who now lives in Beirut said she had been scrambling to find out what had become of her parents, as well as her brother and his wife and children.

"Landlines have been cut, their mobiles are closed," she told the Associated Press. "Have they been slaughtered? Are they still alive? We're searching for any news.

"My family visited me last month and returned to Syria. There were clashes but it was normal, nothing exceptional. I feel so helpless, I cannot do anything for them but pray," she said by telephone, her voice breaking.

She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of endangering relatives believed to be held by the militants.

The Islamic State group's online radio station, al-Bayan, said in a report on Tuesday that IS fighters had detained "tens of crusaders" and seized ten villages around Tal Tamr after clashes with Kurdish fighters. IS frequently refers to Christians as "crusaders".


     I feel so helpless, I cannot do anything for them but pray.
- Beirut-based relative of villagers

It was not immediately clear what the Islamic State group planned to do with the Assyrians.

The Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria said on its Facebook page that the militants had moved their captives to the village of Umm al-Masamir on Mount Abdulaziz, some 25 kilometres south of Tal Shamiram.

That raised fears, the network said, that IS could use the captives as human shields if there is a surge in violence in the area with Kurdish militiamen.

Another possibility is that the Islamic State group could use its captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish and Christian militias it is battling in northeastern Syria.

There is a precedent: the extremists have released Kurdish school children as well as Turkish truck drivers and diplomats after holding them for months.

The fighting around Tal Tamr has coincided with heavy clashes between Kurdish groups and Islamic State militants about 90 kilometres (55 miles) to the east, near the Iraqi border.

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units, or YPG, launched an offensive over the weekend, quickly seizing some 20 villages from IS.

The fighting continued through Tuesday, as the YPG captured another 10 villages, the Observatory said.

The Islamic State group has repeatedly targeted religious and ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq since seizing control of large swathes of both countries. Islamic State fighters have ransacked churches, demolished Shia and Sunni Muslim shrines, and enslaved women of the Yazidi community, a tiny sect considered heretical by the Islamic State group.