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Islamic State Releases Small Group of Assyrian Christian Hostages Days After Mass Kidnapping

The militants released several members of the ethnic minority group, but the fate of many others abducted last week in northeastern Syria remains unclear.

by Meredith Hoffman
Mar 1 2015, 9:30pm

Photo by Hussein Malla/AP

The Islamic State released several Assyrian Christian hostages Sunday, days after news broke that the militants had kidnapped more than 200 members of the ethnic minority group from their homes in northeastern Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, the Islamic State's Sharia court ordered the captives to be freed. The SOHR did not explain the reason for the court's ruling.

The SOHR said an Assyrian commander confirmed the release of 19 hostages, but other reports suggested as many as 28 had been let go. 

The news was confirmed by Assyrian activist groups, including Sweden-Syria and the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights. Sweden-Syria released images showing the prisoners from the village of Tal Kuran arriving in the city of Al-Hasakah in northeastern Syria.

The Islamic State's court has reportedly yet to determine the fate of the remaining hostages.

Samir Taji, a member of the al Nusra Front, al Qaeda's branch in Syria, told ARA News that the hostages had been moved from Al-Hasakah province, where they were kidnapped, to Raqqa and other parts of Syria controlled by the Islamic State.

Related: Kurdish fighters recapture strategic Syrian town from the Islamic State. 

"They were first held in an IS detention center near Mount Abdulaziz, before being transferred to other areas," Taji reportedly said.

The Islamic State attacked 35 Assyrian villages last week. Assyrians are a Christian minority group that is indigenous to Syria and Iraq. Their numbers have reportedly dwindled in Syria to around 400,000 as many have fled their homeland amid persecution and violence during the country's ongoing civil war.

In January, Iraq's federal government approved a plan to establish a Nineveh Plains province in Iraq as a homeland for Assyrians, the Jerusalem Post reported.

"They have lost everything, are living in internally displaced persons camps, they are living in tents," Jeff Gardner, a spokesman for the Assyrian support group Restore Nineveh Now, told the Jerusalem Post.

The release of the Assyrians followed an Islamic State defeat at the hands of Kurdish forces in the region. On Saturday Kurdish fighters overtook the strategic town Tal Hamis in Al-Hasakah, the same province where the hostages were seized last week. Tal Hamis has been under IS control the past year, but an extended military campaign by the Kurds, aided by US-led coalition airstrikes and militias, ousted the militants from the area.

But just as they lost Tal Hamis, IS fighters boasted of their latest conquest: overtaking the Iraqi village Baghdadi. The group released a propaganda video Saturday showing fighters in armored vehicles storming the town.

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter: @merhoffman