The terror group known as ISIS has been infamous for oppressing Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria. However, Kurdish officials reported that ISIS has released more than 200 Yazidis from its custody on Wednesday.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the Yazidis were held for eight months under ISIS control. Peshmerga commander Gen. Hiwa Abdullah noted that most of the freed 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse and neglect; 40 of them were children, while the rest were elderly.
"We are very happy now," released Yazidi Mahmoud Haji said. "We were worried that they were taking us to Syria and Raqqa."
The Associated Press reported that the freed captives wept and cried out to God when they greeted their families. Others were taken away by ambulances and buses to receive medical care.
"No reason was given for the release of the prisoners who were originally abducted from the area around Sinjar in the country's north," AP wrote. "The handover took place in Himera just south-west of Kirkuk, 290km (180 miles) north of Baghdad."
Rassol Omar, a commander in the Peshmerga force, told Raja Razek and Jason Hanna of CNN that Arab tribal leaders helped make the release possible. However, Nuri Osman, an official with Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, told CNN that no reason has been provided as to what motivated ISIS to release the Yazidis.
"Osman said 217 Yazidis were released," Razek and Hanna wrote. "Omar, the Peshmerga commander, had a higher count: 228."
The Associated Press talked to 88-year-old Jar-Allah Frensis, a Christian farmer, and his wife about their ordeal. He stated that ISIS militants broke into his house in Sinjar and arrested his wife and son.
"The militants took all of our money and jewelry," Frensis said. "We have been living under constant fear till our release."
The farmer told the Associated Press that he doesn't know what happened to his son, who was taken away by the militants.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the Associated Press that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release of the Yazidis.
"Obviously, any release of innocent civilians is to be welcomed," Dujarric said. "I think one couldn't help but being moved by the pictures."
According to CNN, Yazidis are of Kurdish descent, and their religion draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Many Muslims think of them as "devil worshipers," and ISIS has been particularly brutal to that group.
"The Sunni militant group views Yazidis and Shiite Muslims as apostates deserving of death, and has demanded Christians either convert to Islam or pay a special tax," AP wrote. "The group has massacred hundreds of captive soldiers and tribal fighters who have risen up against it, publicizing the killings in sleek online photos and videos."