Islamic State fighters execute three Christian hostages in Syria and vow to kill 180

Islamic State (IS) militants have released a video showing the executions of three Syrian Christians taken hostage in late February. Each of the men identify themselves to the camera and say “I am a Nazarene [a Christian]”, before they are shot in the back of the head. The group has threatened to kill 180 more of the Christian hostages if the ransom demands are not met.

The men are seen kneeling, wearing orange jumpsuits, and identify themselves as Abdulmasih Enwiya, Ashur Abraham and Basam Essa Michael, from the villages of Tel Jazira and Tel Shamiram. After looking into the camera and stating their Christian identity, name, date of birth and village of origin, they are shot in the back of the head.

Three more Christians are then shown kneeling behind the bodies and identify themselves in the same way as the first group. Then one of the three says, “Our fate is the same as these [pointing] if you do not take proper procedure for our release”.

Originally, IS demanded US$ 100,000 (£66,000; €88,000) for the release of each of the Christians from the Khabur river area still being held by the militants, but lowered the amount when church leaders said it was unattainable. However, local church leaders report that there are still major obstacles that are preventing the release of the hostages. Over 250 Syrian Christians were captured on 23 February as IS raided some 35 Assyrian villages along the Khabur river in north-eastern Syria. Some of the elderly have since been released, but it is thought that 202 are still being held.

Syrian activist groups believe that the killings took place on 23 September, the day that Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, despite the fact that the video was released two weeks later. On that day Muslims remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Muslims believe it was Ishmael, not Isaac whom Abraham was going to sacrifice).

IS jihadists similarly raided the Syrian town of Qaryatain on 6 August, kidnapping around 260 Christians. Dozens were later taken to Raqqa, the so-called capital of IS territory. But on 2 September, the militants gave those who remained 48 hours to decide whether they would convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax, or leave. The next day, IS released 15 Christians who signed a dhimma contract that forced them to live with a second-class status and pay the humiliating tribute.

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