Terrorist group ISIS has abducted as many as 285 Christians from Assyrian villages beginning on Monday, 22 February.
Originally estimated to be between 70 and 100, the number of those kidnapped has risen every day since the attack began.
CNN reported Thursday that the number has reached 262 Christians kidnapped, and the BBC offers this newest report of 285 kidnapped.
Men, women, children, and the elderly were captured as the militants burned and looted their homes. Most of the captives are said to have come from the Assyrian villages of Tal Shamiram, located 50 miles southwest of the Hassakeh provincial capital of Qamishli, another city to the northeast.
Hassakeh borders Turkey and Iraq, and while it is mainly Kurdish, many Arab, Assyrian and Armenian Christians live in the province.
Over 3,000 people have been displaced since the early morning raid on Monday forced Syrian villagers out of their homes. ISIS has been targeting Christians for months, trying to force them to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax (called a jizya), or be put to death.
The motive behind these kidnappings is not yet clear, but one correspondent indicated that these captives might be used as part of a prisoner swap with Kurdish forces.
While Isis has not affirmed the kidnappings, photos have circulated online of ISIS’ fighters using machine guns and looking at maps. These pictures were reportedly taken near Tel Tamr, the area in which the abductions happened.
The captured people have been in touch with relatives, and people in Sweden, Germany, Canada, and the United States are worried for the safety of their family members.
Osama Edward of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, who has relatives in the area, told the BBC that his wife’s elderly aunt and her cousin were among the hostages.
“My wife tried to call her cousin’s house and there was somebody who picked up the phone and said: ‘This is not Akram’s house. This is the Islamic State’s house.’”
One Assyrian woman now living in Beirut has been trying to find out what has happened to her parents, brother and his family.
“Land lines 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.”
“I cannot do anything for them but pray,” she said on the telephone. She has not revealed her identity so to protect her relatives’ lives.
Sharlet and Romel David, another couple in Modesto, California, said they have twelve family members in Syria who were among those captured by ISIS.
“We pray, we pray all the time,” said Romel.
“What we’ve heard is it was like a sea of black uniforms marching through all the villages, burning down the churches, desecrating the crosses and wreaking havoc.”
Sharlet’s 59-year-old brother left California two years ago and moved back to Syria in an attempt to bring his family back to the United States. But he was unsuccessful in bringing them back, and now his family is being held captive by ISIS.
In response to this attack, a prominent Christian Syrian leader called for a US-led coalition to aid the Christian and Kurdish fighters to oust ISIS.
In January of this year, the Kurds attacked terrorists with the help of international air strikes. This was a four-month siege that eventually resulted in those terrorists leaving the border of Turkey.
Bassam Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, said that foreign aid is needed to decidedly get ISIS out of their country.
Ishak’s appeal to stop the Islamic State advancement has been echoed by Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Hindo of Hassakeh.
“I wish to say quite clearly that we have the feeling of being abandoned into the hands of those Daesh [the Arabic acronym for Islamic State],” Archbishop Hindo told the Vatican’s Fides news service.
“American bombers flew over the area several times, but without taking action,” he said. U.S analysts have confirmed this report. No military airstrikes against IS have been made in the Hassakeh region.
The area is currently being defended by local military units, but they lack sufficient arms to launch an attack. They said they are currently seeking air support to fight the extremists.
This civil war has been going on for years, and many of these Assyrians do not have basic necessities like food, water, and clothing.
“We have 100 Assyrian families who have taken refuge in Hassakeh, but they have received no assistance either from the Red Crescent or from Syrian government aid workers, perhaps because they are Christians. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is nowhere to be seen,” Archbishop Hindo told Fides.
The cry for help by Archbishop Hindo, Ishak and other Christian leaders follows a church burning and kidnapping spree that began on Monday.
Osama Edward fears that these Christians might face the same fate as the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded earlier this month.
In Libya, ISIS fighters were filmed beheading 21 Egyptian Christians. The militants were dressed in black, the Christians in orange jumpsuits. After taking their captives to a beach, the ISIS militants forced the Christians to kneel before beheading them all.
In addition to the kidnappings, ISIS also engaged with Kurdish and Christian militiamen while it seized several villages in Syria.
ISIS has also released a video showing their destruction of artifacts in the lands under their control. The video showed men smashing ancient Mesopotamian artifacts with sledgehammers in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
This video only adds to the mounting fears surrounding the fate of the abducted Christians and other minorities targeted by ISIS’ cruelty.
Osama Edward said that these terrorists are wiping Assyrian heritage in Mosul, and at the same time wiping them geographically from the face of the Earth,” the director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria said.
By systematically destroying Assyrian heritage, ISIS is eliminating what it views as heresy. It is also believed that they are acquiring and selling ancient artifacts to fund their cruel campaign.
The Assyrian Christians are an ancient race, and their presence in the area goes back to the ancient Mesopotamians.
Christians are believed to have constituted about 10% of Syria’s 22 million people before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began almost four years ago.
Assyrians, of whom there were about 40,000 in Syria, are Nestorian Christians and speak Syriac, a form of Aramaic, the language of Christ.
The largest concentration of Assyrians in Syria is in Hassakeh province, but there are also smaller communities in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
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