Islamic State militants have released four more Assyrian Christian hostages from the hundreds they captured last week during offenses in Northern Syrian villages, but concern is growing for those still in captivity.
On Tuesday evening, ISIS released a married couple, a young woman, and 6 year-old girl named Mariana Mirza, whose parents were among the 19 captives released on Sunday, reports the Assyrian rights group Demand for Action. However, the reason for their release remains unknown, the group said.
Last week, ISIS jihadists targeted a number of villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority near Tel Hmar, south of the Khabour river, killing nine Assyrian fighters and kidnapping hundreds of others. Later attacks bought the number of villages raided to 35, displacing over 3,000 men, women and children.
Currently, Assyrian leaders and Sunni tribal sheikhs are reaching out to the terrorist group to try to negotiate the release of the 190 Christians still in ISIS captivity. However, fears continue to mount due to recent reports that ISIS has executed at least 12 Assyrian fighters captured, two of them women.
"We pray and hope for the others to be released," said Fr. Emanuel Youkhana, who heads the Christian Aid Programme Northern Iraq, CAPNI.
Assyrian Christians are among the numerous religious minorities in Syria and Iraq to become targets for ISIS, a violent jihadist group bent on establishing a caliphate throughout the regions it has captured. Since last summer, ISIS has killed, tortured, and displaced thousands of Christians and Yazidis in an effort to purge the area of religions other than Islam.
Yesterday, speaking at a press conference, spokesman for the European Syrian Union, David Vergili, urged the international community to unite in defeating the terrorist group as persecution continues to mount.
"There is ongoing genocide, killings and abductions against native people of [the] Middle East," he said, according to the AFP.
"We, as Chaldean-Syriac-Assyrian people, commemorate the centennial of Sayfo 1915 against us under the Ottoman-Turkish rule. Today, 100 years later, we face the same threat that can be the final step to end our existence in the homeland.
"As citizens of European countries, it is within our rights to ask for European and international support to our people in the Middle East. We do not have time to lose. There are new dynamics and actors in the region, and the international community also needs a new approach in order to stop this total collapse."
Meanwhile, in Arizona, hundreds gathered for a vigil in solidarity with the Assyrian Christians who are still being held captive by ISIS.
"We are the people who have faith in Christ," Bishop Mar Aprim Khamis of Assyrian Church of the East in Glendale told AZ Central. "We have been persecuted. We have been massacred. Today it's not only tragic, it's genocide."