An Assyrian Christian woman who was recently released from ISIS captivity has revealed that members of the extremist group held a gun to her head and forced her to desecrate an image of Jesus Christ by trampling on it.
"They stormed in the door, their faces not covered. They put a gun to my chest and threw an image of Christ hanging on the wall on the floor. They asked me to step on it. I had no choice. My daughters and grandchildren were there. They took all of us to the river," the woman, who remained anonymous for safety purposes, told Al-Monitor in an interview posted on Thursday.
The woman, who was among the 253 Assyrians kidnapped by the jihadist group in a raid on 35 different villages along the Khabur River back in February, fears for the fate of her family, who are still in the IS-held city of Shaddadeh.
The Assyrian woman revealed that when she was kidnapped, the militants took 85 people from her village of Tel Tamer alone, and that she saw her house burned down. ISIS then threw the Assyrians on a boat and then on trucks to Shaddadeh.
"The first thing they did was to separate the men from the women. Children younger than 11 would stay with the women. From that moment on, we never saw the men and boys again. We were allowed, however, to send letters over to the men and receive theirs," she continued.
"They crammed all of us into a room with a single window. There was so little room we would take turns lying down to sleep. We would take turns by the window to breathe better."
She added, "our lives were destroyed" by the kidnapping.
"I don't know why we were not beaten or worse, but I can tell you that for the entire time we lived in extreme fear. We were constantly threatened verbally," she said.
"They would say to us, 'We know everything about you. You speak and you are dead.' In our group no one accepted IS 'offer' to convert to be freed. But we knew that those who put up physical resistance from other villages were killed."
Assyrian Christians, who account for about 2.5 percent of Syria's 1.2 million Christians, have been targeted by ISIS since the group seized control of Syria last year. While the militants have released some of the Assyrian Christians they captured in February, they are still holding over 200 of them in bondage, and are demanding $100,000 each for their release.
According to A Demand for Action, the Assyrian rights campaigning groups, Bishop Mar Mellis spoke to SBS Radio in Australia about the negotiations between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Islamists.
"We tried many times to negotiate with the people that captured them and for their release," he said. "We offered them an amount of money in accordance with the law of jizya [religious tax] but sadly after a week the negotiator between us returned and told us that ISIS wanted $100,000 for each person. They were asking for over $23 million."
He continued, "We are a poor nation. These people have not done anything wrong and won't harm anyone. We as Assyrians do not have this amount of money you are asking for." Bishop Mellis added, "We then thought we would wait, hoping they would come back to talk. Sadly, we received word that the 230 kidnapped people will be sent to the Court of Sharia in Raqqa, where a Muslim judge from Mosul will deliver their fate."
Earlier in July, Pope Francis called for an immediate end to "a form of genocide" of Christians taking place in the Middle East and beyond, describing it as a "third world war," the Catholic Herald reports.
"Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus," Pope Francis said.
"In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end," the Pontiff added.