Islamic State Militants Seize Christians, Villages in Northeast Syria

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By RAJA ABDULRAHIM
Dozens of men, women and children abducted, according to rights groups and residents
This week’s kidnappings recall the plight of the Yazidis, a minority religious sect targeted by Islamic State. The Yazidis are seen in this photo fleeing the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Goveronate in August 2014. ENLARGE
This week’s kidnappings recall the plight of the Yazidis, a minority religious sect targeted by Islamic State. The Yazidis are seen in this photo fleeing the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Goveronate in August 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS
BEIRUT—Islamic State militants seized a string of Christian villages in northeastern Syria and kidnapped scores of civilians, according to human-rights groups and local residents.

The kidnappings in Hasakah province came after Islamic State’s affiliate in Libya released a video last week that purported to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. That magnified fears of more atrocities against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

More countries are trying to crack down on citizens traveling to Syria to join militant groups. How are they doing it? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer.

The opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 90 civilians were kidnapped, while residents of the captured village of al-Shamiram told the Observatory they heard Islamic State militants speaking over walkie-talkies claiming they had seized 56 “crusaders.”

An opposition activist in Hasakah said 30 civilians in the city and 30 fighters from a local Assyrian militia had been seized. Fifty-five families were missing, he said. Priests, women and children were among the hostages seized, the Assyrian Network for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

The radical fighters raised Islamic State’s black flag over the villages after seizing them on Monday, the rights group said. The captured villages have large concentrations of Assyrian Christians, an ancient minority in the region.

“The mood is very somber in the community world-wide,” said Peter BetBasoo, editor of the Assyrian International News Agency. “Assyrians see this as more nails in the coffin of them being forced out of their homelands, in conjunction with what is happening in Iraq.”

Islamic State has painted its conflict as one between Muslims and Christian crusaders in an attempt to rally Muslim sympathy around the world. The group claims to promote a purer form of Islam that it says is more in line with the tenets of the faith at its founding in the seventh century.

Since seizing large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, it has routinely targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as well as Shiite Muslims and other Sunni Muslims it deems apostate. In August, the militants took over northern Iraqi towns belonging to Yazidis—Kurdish-speaking followers of an ancient religion that Islamic State has condemned as devil worship. They killed many Yazidi men, enslaved women and kidnapped others. The new Islamic State offensive in Syria brought 10 villages under the group’s control while local and Syrian Kurdish militias were fighting to prevent the takeover of others, according to the rights groups and local residents. Kurdish forces have been fighting Islamic State for more than a year in Hasakah province and Monday’s incursion opened a new battlefront in a previously calm part of the province.

The latest offensive comes in the wake of Islamic State’s defeat in Kobani, a Kurdish city in northern Syria on the border with Turkey, and its successive withdrawal from surrounding villages. The villages captured Monday on the outskirts of Hasakah, the capital of a northeastern province of the same name, are more than 150 miles east of Kobani.

The Christian community targeted are descendants of the ancient Assyrians who still speak Syriac and belong to a number of Christian denominations.

—Mohammed Nour Al Akraa contributed to this article.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-kidnaps-scores-of-syrian-christians-1424771194