The extremist group Islamic State has now released some of the Christian hostages it seized in north-east Syria last week. According to London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 19 captives have been released – 18 were from the village of Tel Goran, one of the Assyrian Christian villages in Hassake governorate captured on 23rd February. The other captive is not thought to have been seized during these attacks. All 19 were reported to have arrived safely at St. Mary’s Church in the town of Hassake.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), Mariana Mirza, a six-year-old girl, is among those still being held by Islamic State. Her aunt on her father’s side has stayed behind with the girl, even though she had been granted her freedom. Mariana’s father, Abdo Mirza, was given a letter guaranteeing safe passage by Islamic State and told to bring a ransom for his daughter’s release.
Their release followed three days of negotiations which were mediated by local Arab tribal leaders. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that the releases followed an Islamic State court order that 29 hostages be set free. A contact for Aid to the Church in Need in the region, Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, said that different sources reported a number of hostages had been taken to Mount Abdul Aziz, an area controlled by IS. He also said that a Shari’a Court in the town of Shadadi (about 40 miles south of Hassake) is hearing the hostages’ cases according to Shari’a law.
Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo denied reports that Islamic State had killed at least 15 Assyrian Christian hostages who were defending their villages. “I contacted the vicar of the Chaldeans in Al Hassake, Fr Nidala. He told me that reports about Christians being killed [are] not true.”
The number of captives from Tel Shamiran are now said to be only 155 people, lower than previously believed, bringing the total number of captives to around 290.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)