ISIS reject $1m offer for release of 230 Assyrian hostages

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By Jack Moore
Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria in February, in Beirut.REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir
ISIS militants have rejected an offer of $1.15m (£750,000) from the Assyrian community for the release of 230 Assyrian Christians being held in northeastern Syria by the terror group, Newsweek can exclusively reveal.

The hostages were captured in the civil war-torn country’s northeast in February and, despite 21 of them being released in early March following negotiations, 51 children, 84 females and 95 males remain in captivity, according to the Assyrian rights group A Demand For Action.

Archbishop Mar Meelis, the Assyrian Archbishop for the Church of the East in Australia and the contact point for the Syrian bishop negotiating with ISIS for the hostages’ release in the city of Hasakah, confirmed that ISIS were offered a Jizya payment in accordance with what they consider a sharia law principal.

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The Assyrian community offered $1,000 (£651) per hostage, before raising this to $5,000 (£3,255) per hostage, a total payment of $1,150,000 (£750,000). The terror group are now demanding that the Assyrian community pays $23m (£14.97m) for the hostages and have said the Assyrians will face an Islamic court, believed to be located in the group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, where they are now awaiting trial.

The ransom averages at $100,000 (£65,082) per hostage which is an impossible task for the Assyrian community, says Mellis. He adds that, despite the difficulty of raising such a vast amount of money, the Assyrian community remains hopeful that the hostages will be released and returned to their families.

“We offered to pay the Jizya required for each individual, but they unfortunately refused,” he says. “Most of the assistance was to come from the collection from overseas individuals but they refused. At the end, they told us not to contact them anymore unless the money is available, and we don’t have the money that’s for sure.”

“I think the reason for asking for such a big amount is the misconception that since these hostages are Christians then the West will interfere and pay the amount, which is not the case,” the archbishop adds.

The bishop negotiating with the radical Islamist militants in the Syrian city, Bishop Mar Afram, is situated approximately 20km (12.7 miles) from ISIS-controlled areas and contacts Meelis daily by phone to update him on the negotiations despite the group spying on communications in the area.

Asked how the negotiations with the terror group are facilitated, Meelis confirms that communications are made “through a third person who travels between the areas and delivers the messages of both sides” saying that it’s “the only way”.

When asked how long the group takes to reply and how long the messenger takes to transport the communications, Meelis says it can take “sometimes two, three days. Sometimes four days. It depends on the ground events and circumstances.”

The bishop could not reveal the identity of the middleman but says the messenger is a trusted person by ISIS and safe from kidnap or attack when he enters the territory they control around Hasakah.

ISIS consider ancient religious minorities such as Assyrians and Yazidis to be kafir (disbelievers) and infidels. Assyrian Christians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Middle East whose foundations lie in Assyria, a historical region of northern Mesopotamia, but since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War they have faced persecution from Islamic extremists.