ICC Note: Nearly 250 Christians remain hostages to the jihadist group ISIS in NE Syria. Abducted in late February, ISIS has demanded a ransom of about $100,000 a person as a jizya – religious tax – for their freedom. The Assyrian community has attempted to negotiate their release, but so far their offers have been rebuffed.
05/08/2015 Syria (WWM) Danger levels rose sharply in late April for northeast Syria’s isolated Assyrian Christians, caught for nearly three months now between Kurdish militias and Syrian army forces battling with militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State for control of Hassaka province.
“We are going through a terrible moment,” Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo told Fides News April 30. “The jihadists of the Islamic State attacked Hassaka for two days. They were warded off by the [Syrian] army and Kurdish militias. But we are cut off, like an island surrounded by jihadists from all sides.”
Some 1,000 Assyrian families had been forced out of their village homes along the Khabur River by the Islamic State in late February, sending them into exile in Qamishli and Hassaka city.
In addition, 242 Assyrian Christians captured during the attacks are still being held incommunicado, reportedly at al-Shaddadi, an IS stronghold bombed last week by the Syrian army. Church officials have identified all 93 women, 51 children and 98 men taken captive.
But after two months of behind-the-scenes negotiations through local intermediaries, church attempts to gain the release of the hostages were rebuffed by their IS captors.
According to Australia’s Archbishop Mar Meelis of the Assyrian Church of the East, who spoke to Newsweek on May 1, the IS jihadists demanded a ransom of US $23 million, or about $100,000 per person, to release their Khabur captives. The militants reportedly described the ransom as the jizya – a payment required under Islamic law for non-Muslims who refuse to convert to Islam.
In response, an Assyrian church leader told World Watch Monitor, “This is an amount beyond the capacity of a tiny church and community. These captives are poor people who depended on their low income as farmers.” The church’s counter-offer, which the cleric said was “a reasonable amount that the families can afford,” was rejected, leaving negotiations at a standstill.