By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
HASAKAH, SYRIA (ANS. FEB. 28) Islamic State militants have reportedly executed 15 Christians who have been captured in villages in northeastern Syria since Monday.
According to a story by John Burger writing for Aleteia Media, a priest who has been feeding reports to Christian aid agencies around the world, including Aleteia partner Aid to the Church in Need, said a Christian Assyrian lawyer in the city of Hasakah told him that about 15 young Assyrians “are martyred. Many of them were fighting to defend and protect the villages and families.”
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of CAPNI, the Christian Aid Program in Iraq, said that in the Christian village of Tel Hormizd, 14 fighters, two of whom were women, were killed. One of the women may have been beheaded, he said. Another 13 fighters from different villages were captured.
Altogether, including civilians, as many as 350 Christians from the area have been captured, he reported. That’s many more than the 70 originally reported. Their fate is unknown, and there is much speculation.
According to Aleteia, Youkhana said an unconfirmed report said that a mosque in the Arab Sunni village of Bab Alfaraj was calling people to attend a “mass killing of infidels in the mountain of Abdul Aziz on Friday.”
Youkhana reported that none of the residents of one Christian village the Islamic State attacked, Tel Shamiram, were able to escape. This village had 51 families, with an average of five persons per family, he said.
“There was fire exchange between the fighters protecting the village and IS terrorist group,” the priest wrote.
He added, “It is believed there are casualties, and many are Assyrians are been killed in the village. No news on the destiny of the families. Most probably they have been captured and transported to Mount Abdul Aziz, a nearby mount/region controlled by IS.’
Other villages attacked included Tel Jazira, Tel Gouran, Tel Feytha, and Qabir Shamiya.
Youkhana said that 800 families displaced from their villages have taken refuge in Hasakah and 175 in Qamishli. Those numbers are expected to eventually total 1,200 families. The only ones left are fighters in Tel Tamar who are protecting the town together with Kurdish fighters.
“They hope the region to be liberated and families return,” Aleteia reported Yoikhana said.
According to a report by Catholic News Agency (CNA), civilians fleeing to the Turkish border have been stranded as they are not allowed to cross.
“There are 200 families who were running away and trying to escape to Turkey, but the border is closed for Syrians. No Syrian can cross into Turkey,” Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo told CNA Feb. 26.
Hindo oversees the Syrian Archdiocese of Hassake, which is located in the Al-Hasakah region of Syria. The region sits between the country’s borders with both Turkey and Iraq.
Aleteia said the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday evening “strongly condemned” this week’s abductions, and demanded the immediate release of others taken by the Islamic State and similar groups.
Also on Wednesday, the United States condemned the attacks on Assyrian Christian villages, which it said included the burning of homes and churches and abduction of women, children and the elderly.
Reuters news agency had this background on the situation.
The region is strategically important to Islamic State as one of the bridges between land it controls in Syria and Iraq. In recent weeks, it has lost ground in northeast Syria after being pushed out of the Kurdish town of Kobani in January by Kurdish forces backed by U.S. led air strikes.
These same strikes, however, have been unable to stop its advance into smaller villages.
Heavy fighting continued through Wednesday night between Syrian Kurdish militants and Islamic State, Kurdish officials and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“ISIS now controls 10 Christian villages,” Aleteia reported Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman said by phone.
He added, “They have taken the people they kidnapped away from the villages and into their territory.”