230 Assyrian Christian Hostages Closer to Freedom as Negotiators Compel ISIS to Lower Demands

(Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)An Assyrian woman attends a mass in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, inside Ibrahim al-Khalil church in Jaramana, eastern damascus March 1, 2015. Militants in northeast Syria are now estimated to have abducted at least 220 Assyrian Christians this week, a group monitoring the war reported.

A group of 230 Assyrian Christians held hostage by Islamic State terrorists since February might be closer to gaining their freedom, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo has said, revealing that the jihadists have agreed to significantly lower their demands in the negotiations.

"In the first attempted contact through intermediaries there was talk of an exorbitant request, amounting to 23 million dollars (about 100 thousand dollars per hostage) to free Christian prisoners," Hindo, who is the head of the archieparchy of Hassaké-Nisibis, told Fides News Agency.

After it was made clear to the jihadists that collecting so much money is impossible for the Assyrian community, they eventually agreed to ask for "much, much less," though Hindo did not share the precise sum.

"Therefore, now, the biggest obstacle regarding the release of our Assyrian brothers is no longer money, but the difficulty of how to organize the phase of liberation," the Catholic Archbishop said.

"Four buses would be needed to release the hostages from the place of their seizure to get them back to Hassaké and avoid any danger of attacks. In any case, it would be a delicate operation, which in some way should be agreed with the Syrian army forces and Kurdish militias, so that everything proceeds smoothly."

This particular group of Assyrians was kidnapped by February's raids on villages in the Khabur river valley, and is believed to be held captive in IS' al-Shaddadi stronghold.

Many other kidnapped Assyrians remain in the Islamic militants' hands, however, including people from over 100 families that were kidnapped when IS captured the town of al-Qaryatain in the Homs district of western Syria.

A number of Christians remain in al-Qaryatain, and have been reportedly issued 11 commandments by the jihadists that they must follow if they want to preserve their lives and continue living there.

"Our entire ancestral homelands have been completely taken and now they won't even allow us to sustain our religious faith in one God and his son Jesus Christ," said Nahren Anweya, an Assyrian-American activist.

Following the mass kidnappings, Assyrian Church of the East in Lebanon Bishop Yatron Koliana estiamted that as many as 15,000 Assyrian Christian families are facing dangers from IS or the ongoing civil war in Syria.

"My personal sources say there are about 15,000 families left in Syria. Of course, they do not live in the villages captured by militants, but were able to temporarily relocate to nearby towns," Koliana said.

The bishop has said that displaced Assyrians will need help from the international community if they are to return to their communities.

"We very much hope that countries such as Russia and the United States will hear our call for help from their Christian brothers in the Middle East," he added.