Almost ten weeks after around 250 Christians were hunted out and captured in the Syrian town of Qaryatain, Islamic State (IS) jihadists have released 50 of the hostages. The freed captives safely arrived in Assyrian villages Zaidan and Fairozeh on 12 October.
It is thought that the group is continuing to hold 185 of the Christian hostages taken from the town on 6 August, among them 75 women and several children.
A group of 15 were earlier released on 4 September after signing a dhimma contract that forces them to live with second-class status when they were given 48 hours in which to decide whether they would convert to Islam, sign the humiliating dhimma contract, or leave.
Church leader Jacques Mourad, who miraculously managed to escape IS militants after he himself was taken hostage earlier in the year, is working for the release of the remaining hostages.
He was kidnapped on 21 May while he was serving at Qaryatain’s Mar Elian monastery. The monastery was home to hundreds of displaced Syrians, but jihadists flattened the ancient structure after they seized the town.
“The first four days we were in the mountains, locked up in the monastery’s car we were captured in,” he recounted. “On [11 August] we were taken to near Palmyra, where there are 250 other Christian prisoners from the city of [Qaryatain].”
“Almost every day there was someone who came to my prison and asked me, ‘What are you?’ I would answer, ‘I’m a Nazarene, in other words, a Christian.’ ‘So you’re an infidel,’ they shouted. ‘Since you’re a Christian, if you don’t convert we’ll slit your throat with a knife.’”
He refused to renounce his faith in Jesus, but escaped the jihadists through the aid of a Muslim friend.
Hostages in north-eastern Syria
Another large group of around 250 Syrian Christians was seized from several mainly Christian villages along with Khabur river in north-eastern Syria, in late February and early March. A recent video recorded how three of the men were shot in the back of the head as jihadists threatened to kill 180 more of the group if their exorbitant ransom demands are not met. Despite the fact that militants released the video of the executions in early October, the executions are likely to have taken place on 23 September, the day that Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice).
Although the precise figures of Christian hostages in Syria are unknown, many continue to be held by IS militants who have proven themselves merciless in their acts of brutality. Through our Operation Safe Havens, Barnabas Fund is currently in urgent talks with eleven governments to obtain visas for Christians in Syria and Iraq desperate to flee the killing fields of the Middle East.