ISIS Releases 10 Assyrian Christian Hostages; Over 150 Remain Captured

(Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Azakir)Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, in Beirut, Labanon, February 28, 2015. Militants in northeast Syria are now estimated to have abducted at least 220 Assyrian Christians this week, a group monitoring the war reported.

The Islamic State terror group released 10 Assyrian Christian hostages Tuesday night in the Tel Temir town in Hasakah province, northeastern Syria, but over 150 remain captured and threatened with death.

"The released Assyrians, who are residents of the towns of Tel Shamiram, Tel Jazeera, Qabr Shamiya and Tel Fayda, are in good health conditions," a statement from the Assyrian Network for Human Rights read.

"The total number of the released since the start of the negotiations has reached 98, mostly sick and elderly," the network added, noting that there are five women among the 10 most recently released.

The Assyrians are part of a large group, originally numbering 230, who were kidnapped by the Islamic militants from villages in the Khabur river valley back in February.

IS has been asking for millions in ransom for their release, a sum too great for the local Assyrian community, but after months of negotiations, the terrorists have been releasing small batches of the hostages.

(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.

Back in October, IS claimed it was ready to execute the 180 hostages it was still holding, after a round of negotiations failed to guarantee the $12 million asking price in ransom.

Negotiations have continued, however, though Osama Edward, director of the ANHR, told ARA News that it is not possible to share further details of the process, due to "the gravity and sensitivity of the situation."

"There have been indirect negotiations with ISIS in order to release the rest of the hostages," Edward said.

"The conflict in Syria has been inciting the various ethnic and religious groups to expand at the expense of each other. ISIS has been attacking Assyrian Christians on this basis," he added.

"The declared Kurdish Auto-Administration in Hasakah (led by the Democratic Union Party "PYD") has also worked roughly against Assyrians through suspicious political and administrative procedures which seek to evacuate the area of its inherent Assyrian component."

The Assyrian International News Agency, which revealed the names of those freed, also shared a timeline of the release of the 98 hostages so far, noting that it is most often elderly people who are being let go.

The agency said that another 158 Assyrians from Khabur remain captured, though IS is also holding other hostages, including 185 Christians it took from the conquered town of Qaryatain.

The February raids on the Khabur river drove another 3,000 Assyrians from their villages, and most of those have not returned home.

Concerns for the lives of the hostages remain high, as IS has shown it is ready to act on threats — in October the militants executed three Assyrians it captured in another raid on Christian villages near the town of Tel Temir.

One Syrian priest who was held by IS for months before being released said that he saw many of the other Christian hostages being kept at an underground dormitory.

The clergyman, Father Jacques Murad, prior of the Monastery of Mar Elian, said that the Christians continue to refuse to convert to Islam, despite pressure to do so.

"The Christians were often questioned about their faith and about the Christian doctrine, and they did not convert to Islam despite much pressure. They were faithful to the recitation of the rosary. This experience of trial strengthened the faith of everyone, including my faith as a priest. It is as if I have been born again," Murad said at the end of October, a couple of weeks following his release.