Fate of Syrian Christians Kidnapped by ISIS Still Unknown
On or about February 23, 2015, ISIS attacked 35 Assyrian villages on the Khabur River in the Al-Hasakah Province in northeast Syria. During the attack, more than 233 Assyrian Christians were ripped from their homes and taken from their villages by ISIS, and at least 1,380 families were displaced. Many of these villages have been home to Christians since Biblical times. Of the 233 Christians captured—207 of which remain in captivity—87 are women and 37 are children.
Three weeks before the February attack, ISIS threatened Assyrians in the region that they would be forced from their homes or killed unless they removed the crosses from their churches and paid a Christian tax – one of the many forms of revenue relied upon ISIS. It is believed that the purpose of the kidnapping was to retaliate against Kurdish militants who were able to defeat ISIS and free 22 Kurdish villages around Kobane formerly under ISIS’s control, and to arrange for the return of ISIS militants held captive by the Kurdish militants in exchange for the kidnapped Christians.
Northern Syria has become a vital location for ISIS’s operations. It is estimated that ISIS now controls more than half of Syria and its oil fields, providing the militant group up to $3 million dollars of revenue every day. Through its operations in northern Syria and Iraq, ISIS has demonstrated the ability to control the large territories it conquers – even those heavily populated – by putting into place governing structures ruled by Sharia law. In areas of Syria which have been overwhelmed by conflict for many years, it is reported that ISIS is actually winning over citizens by offering security and jobs. It is estimated that ISIS currently controls more than 6 million people in Iraq and Syria alone.
Syria is also a place of great religious importance to ISIS. ISIS fighters are taught to believe that Allah has already determined the winner of this war. Allegedly, according to Prophet Mohammed, the Syrian town of Dabiq is where, “the armies of Islam and Rome [will] meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and the triumph of true Islam.”
While good news was reported yesterday that the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG has defeated ISIS and taken control of the town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria – a victory that will deprive ISIS of a key supply route for weapons and fighters coming from Turkey and traveling to the ISIS controlled city of Raqqa (south of Tal Abyad) – the fate of the kidnapped Assyrians from the Hasakah province is unknown. Shortly after the abduction, phone calls placed by relatives of those abducted to their loved ones were intercepted by members of ISIS who promised to behead those kidnapped. ISIS has demanded $100,000 for each kidnapped Christian, or about $23,000,000 total.