Associated Press February 22, 2016
BEIRUT — The Islamic State has collected millions of dollars in ransom for a group of Assyrian Christians it kidnapped in Syria a year ago, Christian officials and an opposition group said Monday, as the last of the 230 hostages were freed.
The release ended a yearlong saga for the Christians — many of them women and children — during which families had no news from their loved ones.
Younan Talia, of the Assyrian Democratic Organization, said about 40 remaining captives were released early Monday and arrived in the northeastern town of Tal Tamr. He said the release came after mediation led by a top Assyrian priest in northern Syria.
The extremists captured the Assyrians, members of an ancient Christian sect, last February after overrunning several communities on the southern bank of the Khabur River in northeastern Hassakeh province.
Kidnapping for ransom is a main source of income for the extremists, who have captured scores of journalists and aid workers in the past few years, releasing some for large sums of money and killing others. In November, ISIS said it killed a Norwegian and a Chinese captive after demanding ransom for their release two months earlier.
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Talia said ISIS demanded a ransom of $18 million for the Assyrian Christians. He said the figure was later lowered following negotiations. He said he did not know the final amount.
Osama Edward, director of the Stockholm-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, said 42 Christians, mostly young women and children, were released. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said 42 were released, including at least 17 women.
A Syrian Christian figure said the worldwide Assyrian community launched a campaign for the captives’ release shortly after they were abducted. He said a bank account was opened in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and donations began to flow in from around the world.
‘‘We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million,’’ said the man, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the sensitive mediation. ‘‘We paid less than half the amount.’’
The official added that the fate of five Assyrians who went missing during the abductions was still unknown.
Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said $25 million to $30 million in ransom money was paid by businessmen and the Assyrian church, who asked that the terms of the deal remain secret to avoid allegations of supporting terrorism. Abdurrahman, whose group documents the war through activists on the ground, did not say how he got the information.