The Islamic State (IS) freed hundreds of members of Iraq's Yazidi minority group Saturday that had been held captive since August.
In the unexpected mass release — the largest of its kind — the militants brought between 200 and 350 Yazidis from captivity in Mosul to the southwest of Kirkuk. Kurdish forces took the group to a nearby medical center for treatment. Thousands of Yazidis — victims of some the most extreme violence committed by IS — are still being held prisoner by the extremist group.
Spoke to Yazidi activist Ziyab, who is with the 196 Ezidis freed by ISIS in Iraq. All of them except 5 women are elderly. They left Kirkuk.
— Güney Y?ld?z (@guneyyildiz)January 18, 2015
Almost all of those freed were elderly, disabled, or unwell, including a few seriously ill infants, Reuters reported. They were likely released because "they were a burden" on IS, Iraqi officials told AFP.
"IS must have decided that they could no longer feed them, look after them. They were a burden," Khodr Domli, a leading Yazidi rights activist, told AFP. "Some are wounded, some have disabilities and many are suffering from mental and psychological problems."
Many of those freed used wheelchairs and walking sticks, and said they had received little food and been moved all over northern Iraq the past several months.
"It was so hard, not only because of the lack of food but also because I spent so much time worrying," one Yazidi man in a rickety wheelchair told AFP at a health center near Kirkuk.
IS killed and captured thousands of Yazidis over the summer. The Yazidis follow a religion that predates Islam and Christianity, and IS has subjected them to executions, rape, torture, and forced conversion. Roughly 500,000 Yazidis have been forced to flee their homes since this summer, according to UN figures.
IS is still thought to be holding around 3,000 Yazidis, most of them women and young girls, a Yazidi member of Iraq's parliament told AFP.
Hundreds and maybe thousands of females have been subjected to sex slavery by IS, which released a chilling video in November in which men bargained for the women.
Nasou Afdel, whose father was released Saturday, told Al Jazeera that his mother and two sisters were still missing.
"We ask the Kurdish Regional Government and the Baghdad government to reach out to us and help us and help all Yazidis because they are left with nothing right now," he said.
One Yazidi woman who recently escaped from sex slavery at the hands of IS told the BBC that conditions were so harrowing that she and the other women tried to commit suicide. The militants "took whomever they wanted" and shot at the women, she said. Only one girl managed to kill herself successfully, the freed slave said.
"She slashed her wrists. They didn't let us help her," the woman told IS. "They put us in a room and shut the door. She died. They said: 'It doesn't matter, we'll just dump the body somewhere.'"
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