ISIS Destroys Churches, Loots Houses in Syria

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Christian families cautiously returning to area of northern Syria
John Burger
Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq
Aleteia has obtained this photo of St. Mary’s Assyrian Church in the northeastern Syrian village of Tal Nasri.

“The church was exploded and damaged by IS as they controlled the village,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the humanitarian aid group in Iraq called CAPNI—Christian Aid Program.

Islamic State militants reportedly boobytrapped the church on Easter Sunday this year. Since February, they had controlled many of the villages of the Khabur River valley, a predominantly Christian area, but relinquished control recently due to a commbination of US airstrikes, Syrian military assaults and Kurdish and Assyrian military opposition.

ISIS’ incursion into the region on February 23 led to the mass exodus of the local population and was accompanied by the kidnapping of hundreds of Christians. A few were released after a short time, but most have not been heard from since.

Fides news agency, however, reported Wednesday that two elderly women in the group of more than 230 Assyrian Christians taken hostage in February have been released and were admitted to a hospital in Hassaké to be treated for health problems.

“The local population has started to return to their villages of origin — from the village of Tel Tamar — to find churches devastated and houses looted, with crosses eliminated from the places of Christian worship and anti-Christian slogans painted on the walls,” Fides said.

Father Youkhana, the head of CAPNI, however, said that families are “not going back before being sure of mines, explosions, etc., and that the region is safe and is not targeted again.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.