Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

ICC Note: In February 2015, the Islamic State in Syria captured over 200 Christians in the Khabur River villages in a single night. Now almost two years later, millions of dollars were secretly paid to have these hostages released. While it is very morally fraught to pay ransoms to terrorists, Assyrian Christians around the world felt the absolute necessity to save their people from ISIS.

12/06/2016 Syria (Stripes): The millions in ransom money came in dollar by dollar, euro by euro from around the world. The donations, raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, and the diaspora of Assyrian Christians on Facebook, landed in a bank account in Iraq. Its ultimate destination: the Islamic State group.

Deep inside Syria, a bishop worked around the blurred edges of international law to save the lives of more than 200 people — one of the largest groups of hostages yet documented in IS’s war in Syria and Iraq. It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed.

Paying ransoms is illegal in the United States and most of the West, and the idea of paying the militants is morally fraught, even for those who saw no alternative.

In a single night of horror on Feb. 23, 2015, IS fighters attacked the Christian towns simultaneously, sweeping up scores of people and sending everyone from 35 towns and villages fleeing for their lives.

At 1 a.m., Abdo Marza was awakened by the sound of rushing water in his village of Tal Goran. Somewhere upstream, the dam that had almost entirely cut off the Khabur River in the mid-1990s was open. The men were taking shifts guarding the village and it was not yet his turn. For the first time in many weeks, there was no sound of gunfire in the distance. He settled back into an uneasy sleep.

Around 4 a.m. Islamic State group fighters streamed in, firing their guns and kicking at doors. They herded the terrified residents into a home at the edge of town.

As dawn broke, the armed fighters took each man back to his home and forced him to destroy any signs of Christianity

Fearing for their lives, Marza and his neighbors obeyed the rough commands and stomped on their icons of the Virgin Mary, their pictures of Jesus.

“There was no way you could resist,” he said.

But they refused repeated demands to convert. Months later, recounting that night to The Associated Press from the safety of a German sidewalk cafe, Marza’s hands trembled at the memory.

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