The Islamic State terror group has released 22 Assyrian Christians who were part of a group of over 200 believers kidnapped in February in raids on villages in the Khabur region in northeastern Syria.
The Assyrian Observatory for Human Rights has said the Christians were released due to “the tireless efforts and negotiations by the Assyrian Church of the East in the city of Hasakeh,” and noted that there were 14 women among the hostages.
Images taken by the human rights group have shown a priest greeting several weeping elderly women, AFP reported on Wednesday.
The Assyrian Network for Human Rights, a second group which has also been working for the release of Christians, said the newly freed captives are from the villages of Tal Shamiram and Tal Jazira.
At least 187 other Assyrians from the Khabur region remain as IS’ prisoners, however, with ANHR Director Osama Edward vowing that negotiations will continue to free them all.
“There is a positive atmosphere around the negotiation,” Edward said.
IS, which has heavily targeted Christians and other minorities in Syria, kidnapped an additional 100 Assyrian families last week from the town of al-Qaryatain in the Homs district of western Syria.
Bishop Yatron Koliana of the Assyrian Church of the East in Lebanon, has said that as many as 15,000 Assyrian families are in danger of the Islamic State terror group and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“My personal sources say there are about 15,000 families left in Syria. Of course, they do not live in the villages captured by militants, but were able to temporarily relocate to nearby towns,” Koliana said earlier this week.
He called on the Western world to do more to help the suffering Christians.
“We very much hope that countries such as Russia and the United States will hear our call for help from their Christian brothers in the Middle East,” the bishop added.
As for the Christians kidnapped from the Khabur region in February, the Islamic militants have reportedly been demanding $100,000 each for their release. It is not known whether that sum was met, or what other arrangements were made to secure the freedom of the 22 captives.
One analyst, Graeme Wood, a political scientist at Yale University, suggested in an article for The Atlantic back in March that Christians who pay the special Islamic tax known as “jizya,” receive protection from harm and are allowed to go free.
“The tax on Christians finds clear endorsement in the Surah Al-Tawba, the Quran’s ninth chapter, which instructs Muslims to fight Christians and Jews ‘until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.’ The Islamic prophet, whom all Muslims consider exemplary, imposed these rules and owned slaves,” Wood wrote.