ISIS has released 19 of its Assyrian hostages, according to the human rights group A Demand for Action. The 17 men and two women are from Tal Goran, Syria; it is unclear why they were released on Sunday.
Last week, ISIS took hundreds of Assyrian villagers hostage in the Tell Tamer region of Syria. Although the exact number of captives is unknown, A Demand For Action estimates between 150 and 274 hostages remain.
The terrorist organization also burned local churches belonging to the Christian community. A Demand for Action said in a statement that the Islamic State is attempting to “ethnically cleanse” the region.
According to eyewitnesses who were able to escape the ISIS attack and speak with the Assyrian Human Rights Network, the terrorists used mortar bombs to attack the villagers. Elias Youel Toma, one of the witnesses, said the locals attempted at first to fend off the attack.
“They all fought hand in hand: the Kurds, the Assyrians and the Syriacs, but they were more powerful than us,” Toma told the aid organization. “Their equipment and supplies were stronger. Their weapons were superior and they outnumbered us.” Toma estimated there were 400 to 500 ISIS fighters attacking from four locations.
ISIS in the past has launched other attacks against Assyrians around Iraq and Syria, looting their homes and churches. In Mosul, Iraq, a market where stolen Assyrian goods were sold became known as the “Spoils of Nazarenes” market. It was discovered by the Assyrian International News Agency in early February.
“As part of the process of ethnic cleansing, ISIS attacks people of other denominations and loots the homes of their civilians,” Dr. Amr Al-Azm, a professor of Middle East history at the Shawnee State University and an Assyrian advocate said. “To the terrorist group, it feels acceptable to sell the private property goods of people who do not belong to your sect.”