Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in Syria

Around 70 – 90 Assyrian Christians, including women and children, have been abducted after IS fighters swept through a string of villages along the banks of the Khabur river in northeastern Syria, around dawn on Monday.  The area is predominantly inhabited by Assyrians, an indigenous Christian people who trace their roots back to the ancient Mesopotamians. Assyrians have been predominantly Christian since the 3rd Century AD.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors conflict in Syria, said most of the captives were taken from the village of Tal Shamran, about 28 miles from the largely Kurdish-controlled city of Hassakeh.

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It is reported that about 3,000 managed to escape and have sought refuge in Hassakeh and Qamishli, to the north-east. Hassakeh province is strategically important in the fight against IS because it borders both Turkey and areas controlled by the group in Iraq.

The Islamic State group’s online radio station, al-Bayan, said in a report today (Tuesday) that IS fighters had detained “tens of crusaders” and seized 10 villages around Tal Tamr after clashes with Kurdish militiamen. IS frequently refers to Christians as “crusaders.”

It was not immediately clear what the Islamic State group planned to do with the Assyrians.

The militants have a long history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Rejoicing, as 158 Boko Haram Captives Freed

There was rejoicing today in Damaturu in North Eastern Nigeria, as 158 women and children who had been held captive by Boko Haram militants, were reunited with their families. They were abducted during a raid on Katarko village in Yobe state and were held captive by Boko Haram for three weeks.

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Musa Idi Jidawa, the secretary of Yobe’s State Emergency Management Agency (Sema), told reporters that 62 of the 158 were married women and the rest were children. He said husbands of 16 of the women had been killed by Boko Haram during the raid.

There are conflicting reports as to how the abductees gained their freedom with some saying that the insurgents released them voluntarily and took them to the outskirts of Damaturu. Another claim is that the militants had come under attack from the security forces and had run away, leaving their captives behind.

The village of Katarko is still occupied by Boko Haram fighters although military operations are now being carried out there. It’s likely that the freed women and children will remain in Damaturu until it is safe to return to their village.

“This is fantastic news we have received today and we thank God and rejoice with the families of these women and children who have gained their freedom. However, we mustn’t become complacent or forget the others who are being held by Boko Haram such as the two hundred plus schoolgirls from Chibok. Let’s pray that we’re seeing the turning of the tide and that we will very soon be able to announce their freedom also.”

Ray Barnett

21 Egyptian Christians beheaded by IS in Libya

Libyan jihadists who pledge loyalty to IS have posted a video online showing the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. The video showed a group of men dressed in orange overalls, being forced to the ground and decapitated. The men are believed to have been Egyptian workers, all Coptic Christians, who were kidnapped in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, which is under the control of Islamist groups.

Libya is home to a large community of both Muslim and Coptic Egyptians, with most working in the construction sector. In the first kidnapping in Sirte in late December, a group was abducted at a fake checkpoint while trying to leave the city. In January 2015, militants raided a residential compound in Sirte and separated Christians from Muslims before handcuffing their captives and taking them away.

In response to the beheadings, Egyptian State TV announced this morning that Egypt has bombed Islamic State targets in Libya, in dawn strikes targeting camps, training sites and weapons storage areas.

Libyan Air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi told Reuters that Libyan planes had bombed targets in Sirte and Bin Jawad.

Earlier, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Egypt had the “right to respond” against IS, whom he described as “inhuman criminal killers”. “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.”
Egypt has declared seven days of national mourning.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian Church in Egypt, where it has between 6 and 11 million members. While most Copts live in Egypt, the Church has around a million members outside Egypt; there are over 100 churches in the USA and a cathedral in the UK. Copts believe that their Church dates back to around 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded as the first Pope of Alexandria. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land. The early Church suffered persecution under the Roman Empire, and there were intermittent persecutions after Egypt became a Muslim country.