Hevrin Khalaf, a female politician who worked to unite Christians, Arabs and Kurds in Syria was among nine individuals executed by a Turkish-backed group in the northeast region of the country, according to a human rights monitor.
Khalaf, the 35-year-old Future Syria Party’s secretary-general, was “taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish-backed mercenary factions,” along with her driver, said the political arm of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, local media reported.
“This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians,” it added.
On Twitter, Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, spoke of Khalaf’s efforts to foster tolerance in Syria and condemned her death as a “war crime.”
“Turkish state-backed media hails a ‘successful operation’ to ‘neutralize’ an unarmed 35-year old woman working to unite Arabs, Christians, and Kurds in NE Syria. Ms. Hevrin Khalef was reportedly dragged from a vehicle and shot to death. That’s a war crime,” he tweeted.
Khalaf had been returning from a meeting in Hasakah at the time of the attack. In a statement, Future Party called Khalaf a “martyr" killed while "performing her patriotic and political duties."
Various social media posts verified the initial report, along with the execution of nine other civilians throughout Tal Abyad, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The civilians were shot dead on a highway after being taken from their cars by Turkish-backed militias who had crossed the border. The killings were captured on camera phones and spread across social media.
A State Department spokesman told Reuters on Sunday that Washington found the reports disturbing.
"We have seen reports of the killing of [Hervin] Khalaf....as well as several captured SDF fighters, the latter having been apparently shot while in the hands of Turkish Supported Armed Syrian Opposition elements," a State Department spokesman said, referring to Turkey-backed rebels.
"We find these reports to be extremely troubling, reflecting the overall destabilization of northeast Syria since the commencement of hostilities on Tuesday," the spokesman said in an email.
On Wednesday, Turkey and its allied forces began a military offensive to push the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units from the border. So far, at least 38 civilians in Syria have been killed as a result, according to the Observatory.
The invasion followed President Donald Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, sparking criticism from evangelicals who warned that the move could negatively impact the rights and survival of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.
Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs at the social conservative lobbying group Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in a statement that protecting Northeast Syria against Turkish threats is in the U.S.’ interest.
He warned that a Turkish military operation in northeast Syria would not only “expose and betray U.S. friends and allies” but also “lead to the death and displacement of thousands of religious minorities who have found protection and religious freedom under the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration of north and east Syria.”
“This destabilization could also trigger the resurgence of ISIS and allow Iran expanded influence in Syria — in turn threatening Israel and our allies in the Gulf region,” Weber said. “Not only will our withdrawal destabilize the region, but it sends the wrong message to our allies, and signals to the world that we don’t care about the religious freedom they have built.”
Not only has SDF been America’s “most reliable partner in the fight to defeat IS,” Weber added, but they are also “building religious freedom protections for Christians and others in the area.”
The region can serve as a “safe haven so the persecuted don’t have to flee to Europe and the United States," he said. “If we abandon our allies, and our values, so quickly and without warning, how can we expect future partners to want to work with us?”
FRC President Tony Perkins, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also voiced concern.
“An invasion by Turkey into NE Syria would pose a grave threat to the region’s Kurds and Christians, endangering the prospects of true religious freedom in the Middle East,” he wrote in a tweet.
Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said he was “appalled” by Trump’s decision, and added that “the president of the United States is in great danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.”