Disturbing new reports have revealed that the Islamic State terrorist group is holding more Assyrian Christians hostage than previously thought, including children, and will soon threaten to kill them.
On Monday, reports emerged that 70-90 Christians had been abducted by the extremist group from two villages near Tal Tamer in northeastern Syria, allegedly in retaliation for a major Kurdish offensive aimed at freeing villages from the terror group's control.
However, on Wednesday, Osama Edward, founder of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told CNN that the extremist group is now believed to have at least 150 hostages, among them women, children and the elderly, according to sources on the ground.
Additionally, the group is expected to release a video message directed to President Barack Obama and other members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, threatening to kill the hostages in the same way it recently executed 21 Coptic Christians in Libya.
"Maybe they are facing the same destiny. That's why we call on all over the world, like the U.S, Europe, coalition forces -- protect Assyrians, save Assyrians in Syria," Edward said.
"They are facing death, people are unarmed, they are peaceful. And they need help, they are just left alone -- no one's protecting them."
According to an Agence France-Presse report, the kidnappings took place after ISIS seized two Syrian villages, Tal Shamiram and Tal Hermuz, from forces known as Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
"The jihadists attacked the two villages in retaliation against the Kurds, who four days ago launched a bid backed by the US-led coalition to reclaim villages around Tal Hamis, also in Hassakeh province," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Rahman added that four Kurdish fighters died on Tuesday, while 132 ISIS militants were killed over a four-day period.
"A fifth man, a Westerner who had travelled into Syria to fight alongside the YPG, was also killed," Rahman said.
The jihadist group is believed to have moved the Assyrian captives to Raqqa, a key ISIS stronghold. According to reports, the last message received from the hostages was a text from a kidnapped woman to her husband, who said the militants were interrogating the hostages about whether the women were members of local militias.
Since last summer, over 35 Assyrian villages and towns have been overtaken by Islamic State militants, displacing thousands of families. Many of the refugees lack proper shelter, food, water, blankets, and other necessities.
The terrorist group has particularly targeted religious minorities in an attempt to rid the region of religions other than Islam and establish a nationwide caliphate. According to the AP, the Assyrians have a history dating back some 4,000 years to the time of Mesopotamia, and have been predominantly Christian since the third century.
"How can Syria be Syria without the Assyrians? We gave the country our name," Edward said.
The international community has condemned the recent abductions and called on the terror group to release the hostages as concern mounts.
"ISIL's latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
"Hundreds of other civilians remain trapped in villages surrounded by ISIL fighters, and clashes continue between ISIL and local forces defending their communities. ISIL burned and destroyed homes and churches, and the violence has reportedly displaced more than 3,000 people."