Militants from the Islamic State group kidnapped dozens of Christians after capturing a strategically located town in central Syria, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday. The town of al-Qaryatain in Homs district was seized by ISIS Thursday after three suicide bombers targeted checkpoints manned by pro-regime forces.
At least 230 people were abducted by the militants, who had a list of names of Christian families in the town, according to the monitor. Some of the Christians were taken from a church in the city of al-Qaryatain that lies southwest of Palmyra, which the extremist group captured in May. ISIS has been accused of persecuting minority groups, including Christians, in the areas it occupies.
“The clashes between the regime forces and allied militiamen against IS militants are still taking place between the city of al- Qaryatayn and town of Mahin in the southeast of Homs,” the monitor said Friday.
The town is important to the Sunni-militant group because it links Palmyra with the Qalamun region in the province of Damascus, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse on Thursday. It has a mixed population of around 40,000 Sunni Muslims and Christians, and also thousands of internally displaced people who had fled from Homs, about 50 miles from al-Qaryatain, the Associated Press reported, citing activists.
The Syrian conflict has been ongoing for five years between the embattled government led by President Bashar Assad and various rebel groups, including several Islamist groups affiliated with ISIS or al Qaeda. After taking full control of Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, ISIS suffered several setbacks. In June, Kurdish fighters and their local allies drove ISIS out of the northern border town of Tal Abyad, cutting off a major supply route for the group, AP reported.
Late last month, Turkey began attacking ISIS positions and also signed a deal to open an air base in the city of Incirlik to the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in the region.