Fate of hundreds of hostages taken by ISIS in February still unknown
With the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, there have been questions about whether the Obama Administration’s approach to fighting the Islamic State group is working. Are airstrikes against militants enough, or will we eventually see American "boots on the ground?"
In one part of Syria, at least, the airstrikes might just be having an effect.
Fides news agency reports that ISIS has retreated from Christian villages along the Khabur River in the northeastern Syrian province of Jazira.
ISIS’ incursion there on February 23 led to the mass exodus of the local population, mostly Assyrian Christians. It was also accompanied by the kidnapping of hundreds of Christians. A few were released after a short time, but most have not been heard from since.
Local sources confirm to Agenzia Fides that the retreat of the militia of the IS was caused by the intensification of air strikes carried out by US-led coalition forces against the positions of the jihadists, in support to the counter-offensive carried out by Kurdish militias. Military Kurdish and Assyrian formations entered the abandoned villages and reported to local sources that they found churches which were devastated and houses looted, with destroyed crosses and anti-Christian slogans painted on the walls.
According to Ara News Agency, a part of the Assyrian families who had found refuge in Hassaké have already returned to the villages of Tel Tamar, where the bell of the Assyrian church has been restored. But uncertainty remains about the fate of more than 230 Christian that the militiamen of the IS took hostage during their offensive in the Khabur valley, taking them to their strongholds.
Rima Tüzün, head of foreign affairs for the Syriac Military Council, said the liberation of the area also depended on cooperation between the international coalition, her organization and the YPG (the People’s Protection Units, the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
"We know that Arab IS fighters have been able to flee, but all foreign IS fighters are still hiding themselves in houses," she said Tuesday. "Yes, the people [have] started to return to the villages." She said the Syriac Military Council had no further information on the Christian hostages. There was talk that some have been released, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.