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Christian Families Flee ISIS Kidnappings in Syria

March 06, 2015

Many of those arriving in Lebanon from Syria cannot afford even dilapidated housing.

When the Islamic State (ISIS) last week kidnapped at least 220 Christians from northeastern Syria, a mother with a newborn and two other young children in Hassakah had no way of making contact with her husband in a nearby village.

“I don´t know where my husband is,” the young mother said, sobbing. “I knew there was no hope for him. I left without taking anything with me except my children.”

With her husband at work and out of touch, the well-known terror tactics of ISIS forced her into a hurried decision.

“We heard what ISIS did in the neighboring village, and we did not want to stay,” she told the leader of a ministry in Lebanon providing aid to her and her 8-year-old daughter, 4-year-old son and 11-day-old infant girl. “I was scared for my children.”

She and 11 other Assyrian, evangelical families managed to escape to the ministry center in Beirut, Lebanon, as ISIS militants kidnapped other Assyrian Christians from their village. The director of the center said their pastor in Syria had told them to go to Lebanon and to look up his ministry. Some of the fleeing families went north to Turkey before making it to Lebanon; others crossed Syria, which has been embroiled in nearly four years of civil war by Sunni Muslim rebels vying to topple Alawite President Bashar al-Assad.

Some of the families made it to Lebanon by bus; others got rides on field tractors or took taxis. The mother of three (name withheld for security reasons) said she could not find anyone to transport her. Carrying her newborn girl, she and her other two children began walking.

“The sound of the bombs was coming closer,” she said. “I can still hear women and children screaming and shouting. I don´t know how we were able to escape all this.”

Across areas of Syria where ISIS enforces the cruelties of its caliphate and other zones where it freely operates without necessarily holding ground, the woman and her three young children walked and hitch-hiked 350 miles to Beirut. She said seven or eight cars or pickup trucks stopped to pick them up, the last one leaving them just outside the Lebanon border. They walked across.

“I am here now in Lebanon with nothing,” she said. “We did not eat anything for days. My children and I are starving.”

The ministry seeks food, lodging and medical care for the 12 families that have arrived from the region. ISIS began taking Christian hostages on Feb. 23 in villages around Tal Tamer, about 25 miles from Hassakah. ISIS advanced and kidnapped Christians around Hassakah.

Syrian refugee children in Lebanon need mattresses, sheets, medications, English classes, baby formula and diapers, among other things.

On Sunday (March 1) the Islamic terrorists reportedly released 19 Christians, who arrived in Hassakah by bus after a sharia (Islamic law) court ruled they could be freed after they paid a “tax” on non-Muslims. The reason for the release of the 17 men and two women was unknown, but Assyrian rights advocates speculated their ages may have played a role as most of those freed were over 50.

On Tuesday (March 3) ISIS released four more Assyrian Christians kidnapped in Hassakah Province, including a 6-year-old girl, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). The girl´s father and pregnant mother had been among those released two days prior. AINA reports that Assyrian leaders are trying to negotiate the release of the remaining hostages.

The number of Assyrian Christians kidnapped in cities, towns and villages along the Khabur River in Hassakah Province was between 262 and 373, according to AINA, which reported nine Assyrian fighters died defending their villages and that ISIS had executed at least 12 others who were captured, including two women.

All of the 3,000 Christians in the region have fled with the exception of some militia members fighting alongside Kurdish forces against ISIS. Prior to the onset of the civil war in 2011, the Christian population there was 40,000 to 45,000.

Those kidnapped may have been transported to nearby Mt. Abdul Aziz, according to Assyrian Church of the East Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana. He told media that ISIS attacked the predominantly Christian Khabur Valley after its military lost the town of Kobani, to the west near the border with Turkey. He added that ISIS had support from nearby Sunni Arab villages, but that Sunni Arabs near the predominantly Christian village of Qaber Shamiat helped 15 Christian men and women escape.

ISIS, an off-shoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has killed at least 1,969 people, including 1,238 civilians, since it declared a caliphate last June, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. With hundreds of people missing, the organization said the actual number of civilians killed is likely much higher.

As ISIS military incursions have carved out a proclaimed caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, the militants have repeatedly targeted religious minorities and moderate Muslims for beheadings, rapes and other cruelties. ISIS slaughtered up to 500 people from the ethnoreligious Yazidi community in Iraq in August 2014 and raped and sold many of their young girls in bazaars. It has carried out similar attacks on religious minorities in Syria.

ISIS requires Muslims to swear allegiance to the self-declared caliphate, and under its Islamic theology those who refuse are considered “apostates,” or deserters of Islam, and are therefore subject to execution, noted Graeme Wood in this month´s edition of The Atlantic.

Of the estimated 3.7 million Syrian refugees trying to escape the civil war and the vacuum it has created for ISIS to expand, nearly 1.2 million have fled to Lebanon, according to the United Nations.

“Pray for these families,” the ministry director said. “Pray for those who were left behind. Pray for those who are still fleeing.”

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