At least 220 people is Assyrian Christian villages have been abducted by Islamic State group extremists during a three-day offensive by the militants in northeastern Syria. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Thursday the abductions took place after the terrorist group formerly known as either ISIL or ISIS captured 10 villages near the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasaka, Reuters reported.
“ISIS now controls 10 Christian villages,” Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the monitoring group, told Reuters. “They have taken the people they kidnapped away from the villages and into their territory,” he said. The militant group has recently lost ground in northeastern Syria, a strategically important region connecting the territory it controls in that country and in neighboring Iraq. In January, Islamic State group militants were pushed out of the Kurdish town of Kobani by Kurdish militias backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes after a bitter three-month battle, as the New York Times reported.
The Assyrian Christian community in Iraq and Syria is an Aramaic-speaking group that traces its lineage back 7,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. It has seen its numbers shrink over the past hundred years because of decades of religious persecution and sectarian massacres, according to Al Jazeera. As many as 300,000 Assyrians were killed during the Armenian genocide, while more recent turmoil, including the Iraq War that began in 2003, has further eroded the group’s numbers, which went from 1.4 million living in Iraq in 1987 to just 400,000 at last count.
“After 100 years, Assyrians are meeting the destiny of their grandparents,” Osama Edward, the director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told Al Jazeera. “The whole world is watching and doing nothing as history repeats itself.”
While the Islamic State group has not yet claimed responsibility for the abduction of the missing Assyrians, the extremists have previously employed kidnappings to acquire hostages to trade for their own captured fighters. However, it is unclear whether the militant group is planning to use the same tactic in this case, Reuters said. The terrorists have repeatedly targeted religious minorities since their rise to international notoriety last summer. A video released by the Islamic State group last week showed its members beheading 21 Coptic Christians it had captured in Libya.