World View: Why Did ISIS Release 19 Assyrian Christian Hostages?

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by John J. Xenakis
This morning’s key headlines from
Why did ISIS release 19 Assyrian Christian hostages?
Iran aids Iraq’s army in attack to recapture Tikrit from ISIS
An Assyrian woman in church prays for Christians abducted by ISIS (Reuters)

The Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) on Sunday released 19 Assyrian Christians, 17 men and two women, among over 200 that were abducted last month. in the recent raid, ISIS overran more than a dozen villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority.

An Assyrian woman in church prays for Christians abducted by ISIS (Reuters)

Everyone is wondering why. Some suggested reasons being reported are:

The 19 Christians paid the tax that ISIS imposes on non-Muslims, so they were freed. If that is the reason, one wonders why dozens more did not pay the tax in order to get freed.
All of the released hostages were 50 years of age or older, implying that it is ISIS policy only to slit the throats of younger people.
The ISIS guys are fair and honest interpreters of Sharia law, and they conducted a transparent process that freed the 19 hostages.
The Syrian Sunni Tribal leaders care deeply about the Assyrian Christians, with whom they have lived for centuries, and so they negotiated the freedom of the 19 refugees. Presumably, this means that they do not care as deeply for the other 200 abductees.
The ISIS leaders are deeply religious, and released the 19 on humanitarian grounds.

My personal view is generally quite different from any of these explanations.

First off, I do not view ISIS leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as any sort of religious person. In the Christian world, serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and many others, all claimed to be deeply religious Christians, and could even quote the Bible on cue. But nobody considered these men to any sort of Christian. Like Dahmer, Manson and Gacy, al-Baghdadi is simply a cheap thug, with charismatic skills in using religion to lead people to their deaths.

ISIS has killed a few hundred Christians, but has killed tens of thousands of Muslims. Al-Baghdadi and other ISIS leaders use a two-step process to kill other Muslims. First, they practice “takfir” — they declare the people to be apostates for some trivial reason — then they kill them.

There is no way that Islam permits one Muslim to simply declare a village of people to be apostates for some trivial reason, and to kill them. That would give every Muslim a free pass to kill anyone else. A woman could declare that her husband’s hair is uneven, and kill him.

Here’s something I found on a Muslim web site:

According to a conversation recorded by a contemporary, Mohammed was once talking to an Ansar man:

Suddenly the Holy Prophet said loudly [about someone]: “Does he not bear witness that there is no god but Allah?”

The Ansari said: “Yes indeed, O Messenger of Allah, but his testimony cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said: “Does he not accept that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?”

He again replied: “Yes, he professes it but his profession cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said: “Does he not pray?”

He again said: “Yes he does, but his prayer cannot be trusted.”

The Holy Prophet said: “God has forbidden me to kill such people.”

So al-Baghdadi is no religious scholar, or any kind of religious person. He is a cheap murdering thug who killed tens of thousands of Muslims and who, according to Islam, will burn in hell.

So why did ISIS release the 19 Assyrians? Here’s my theory:

ISIS leaders are cheap, murdering thugs who murder people for power and money. They have had spectacular successes in publicity stunts posting a few videos of killing a few Christians, because those videos bring in recruits and money. But as beheading Christians becomes more commonplace, the publicity stunts become less effective. We have already seen a lot less international outrage of the Assyrian abductions than some previous abductions. One news story writes: “Igniting a live man in a cage; severing the heads of dozens; kidnapping, raping and selling women and children — ISIS’ shocking maltreatment of its captives has become regrettably predictable.”

So, in my view, releasing the 19 Assyrians was just a new publicity stunt to get more attention. Like Jonathan Gruber bragging about the stupidity of the American people, I can imagine Abu Omar al-Baghdadi saying the following: “These Western reporters are idiots. Let’s release 19 Assyrians to give them a ‘glimmer of hope,’ and then when we slit the throats of the other 200 Assyrians, we’ll get a lot more publicity.” Reuters and Christian Times and CNN and
Iran aids Iraq’s army in attack to recapture Tikrit from ISIS

American officials were caught by surprise on Monday when Iraq announced that an invasion of the city of Tikrit had begun, with the objective of retaking it from the Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh). In particular, no U.S. air support will be provided, since none was requested. Instead, some Iranian forces are on the ground helping the Iraqis, though it is not known how many. Iraqi fighter jets will conduct air strikes.

The Iraqi security forces leading the invasion of Tikrit number around 30,000, including a mix of Shia militias, Sunni tribes, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and Iranian advisors. There are already sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias throughout the Mideast, and Iraq’s last generational crisis war was the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, which will still be firmly in everyone’s memory. It is feared that this highly combustible mix of fighters will reignite a wider conflict. Employing Shia militias to attack Sunnis in ISIS is almost certain to inflame the conflict.

The city of Tikrit is symbolic for being the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. US forces found the former president hiding in southern Tikrit eight months after the US-led invasion in 2003. Foreign Policy and BBC