World Watch Monitor reports that militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) launched a fierce offensive before dawn on Monday 23 February, targeting 35 Assyrian Christian villages in the northeast corner of Syria.
The surprise attacks along a 40-kilometer stretch of the Khabour River in Hassaka province, where thousands of Assyrian Christians live along the banks of the river in a string of villages on both sides of the river, forced some 3 000 Christians to flee their homes into the bigger cities. A teenage Christian boy and four Assyrian militia fighters were reportedly killed in the first day of fighting and dozens of Assyrian men, women and children were reported to be held hostage.
An unconfirmed number of Christians, from at least 100 Assyrian families, were abducted after their village was overrun by IS. The hostages were taken prisoner in Tel Shamiran, Tel Goran, Tel Jezirah and Tel Hormizd. In these four villages, the source said that IS militants separated the captured men from their families, leaving the women and children under guard in their homes. Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East said, “The destiny of these families is a major concern to us.”
Youkhana said, according to World Watch Monitor, that by nightfall on 23 February, more than 600 Christian Assyrian families had fled to Hassaka and Qamishli, two of Syria’s 10 largest cities. Although nearby Sunni Arab villages “in general” supported the IS takeover, his source said, some Sunni Arabs near Qabr Shamya intervened to rescue 15 trapped Assyrians, guiding them to safety in Hassaka city.
According to Mar Aprem Nathniel, Bishop of Syria of the Assyrian Church of the East, St. Mary’s Church in Hassaka was “overloaded with the people”, until most were dispersed to local Christian homes in the city.
Hassaka city is just 55 kilometres from the province’s eastern border with Iraq. The province is particularly strategic for the coalition fighting IS, situated at a pivotal point bordering Turkey as well as the Iraqi regions under the jihadists’ control.
According to the online Rudaw English news group, wireless conversations between IS jihadists were overheard, claiming that “56 crusaders” had been taken prisoner from one Christian village. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported “at least 90” Assyrians had been captured.
Open Doors urges Christians to please urgently pray for the abducted Christians. May their trust in the Lord remain steady and may they be aware of His awesome presence. Please pray for the families of the abducted Christians and for the thousands who have fled their homes.