Ten days after the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s harsh offensive emptied out a cluster of Assyrian Christian villages in northeast Syria, the extremists’ intentions toward their 220 or more Christian hostages remain unclear.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an Assyrian commander said IS extremists released 29 of their Christian hostages on March 1, citing a so-called “Sharia court decision” to set them free. But the first group of released captives to reach safety in Hassaka city on March 2 numbered only 19.
All in their 50s or older, the 19 former captives included 17 men and two women. All were civilians from Tel Goran village, except for one hostage believed to have been captured by IS a month earlier. Local Sunni Arab leaders reportedly helped negotiate for the release of the Tel Goran hostages.
“We did not believe that we would come out alive,” one of the released Christians later told the Assyrian International News Agency. “We were in constant fear.”
On March 3, four more hostages, including a 6-year-old girl named Mariana and her great aunt, were released and welcomed to Hassaka by crowds of relieved Assyrians. Although the militants ordered the release of Mariana’s father in the first group of captives, they demanded he return to pay a ransom before they would set his daughter free. The other two released Assyrians were from a separate village, Tel Shamiran. According to one of the released Tel Goran hostages who spoke by telephone with AINA, everyone in the small village was awakened, rounded up and kept under guard during the initial three hours of fighting in the early hours of Feb. 23. The 17 men and four women were driven to Mt. Abdul Aziz for the first night, and then the next morning driven north another four hours into the mountains.
For the next five days, he said, “They kept pressuring us to convert to Islam. It was their constant focus. But we were not mistreated.” When the Christians refused to convert, they were told they must then pay the jizya “tax” for not becoming Muslims.
“We said we would pay the jizya, but we would not convert.” Later, their captors said they would not collect the jizra, since villagers had not fought against them. But the condition of their release, the Islamic State fighters said, was that the Christians could not return to their village.
“They said if we returned and they captured us again, they would kill us. They would behead the men and enslave the women.”
Click here for more.
SOURCE: World Watch Monitor
Barbara G. Baker