Islamic State fighters have captured dozens of Christian families after overtaking a strategically located town in the central Syrian province of Homs last night, a monitor has revealed.
On Friday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadist group had captured Qaryatain after heavy combat with the Syrian army Thursday night. At least 230 people were kidnapped amid the fighting, including numerous Christians who were seeking refuge in a church.
Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Observatory, said the Christians were "either kidnapped from checkpoints or raids or from churches." Among those seized were 45 women and 19 children, including 11 families, some of whom were on a militants' wanted list, the monitor revealed.
Many of the Christians in the town had reportedly sought safety in the town, having fled from the group's advancement in the Northern Province of Aleppo earlier this year. The report notes that the current location of the kidnapped Christians is unknown, and family members have been unable to make contact.
Speaking to the Mail Online, Diana Yaqco, a spokesman for A Demand for Action, said the main concern for the captured Christians is "sexual slavery, mass executions, and beheadings."
"I don't really see a good chance of them being released, whether they are kept in captivity, sold as sex slaves or killed," Benjamin Decker, analyst at the Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, told Newsweek. "The prospect of their release is very slim."
"I don't think we are in a situation where they will be offering a ransom for their release," he added. "This was a political intelligence operation to disrupt some sort of governance that was existing in the town before they entered."
Amnesty International said it was investigating SOHR's report, but called the abduction "very worrying" if verified.
"This does sound credible," Amnesty Syria research Neil Sammonds told the Guardian. "We know that Christians and 'collaborators' are a target of IS. They are at the highest risk either for some kind of summary justice or for Christians in particular, some kind of high ransom demand or exchange," he added.
The Assyrian Christian community has faced heavy persecution from ISIS in recent months, as the jihadist group is known for killing those who do not swear allegiance to its particular brand of Islamic extremism.
Last February, the hardline militant group captured at least 250 Assyrian Christians, most of them women and children, in an attack on 35 villages along the Khabur River in Hasaka, a city in northeastern Syria. The fate of most of the captured Christians remains unclear.
Then, in May, two priests, Father Yacoub Murad and Monk Petros, who ran two monasteries in the area, disappeared from the town of Qaryatain, according to the Assyrian Monitor for Human Rights, a Christian lobby group.
Western governments have been repeatedly criticized for not doing enough to help the Assyrian Christians, along with the other minorities being persecuted by the jihadist group across Iraq and Syria.
"What horrors must IS commit before the world will take greater action to stop the murderers?" Jean-Clément Jeanbart, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, asked in June. "Syrian Christians are in grave danger; we may disappear soon."
Nuri Kino, the founder of A Demand For Action, told Newsweek on Friday that the world is standing by while a "genocide" of Christians is taking place, and compared the reaction to the killing of Cecil the lion and the kidnap of Christians by ISIS. "We will not give up being a voice for these people," he said. "It's devastating that a lot of people spoke up for [Cecil] the lion but the same people do not speak up for children being kidnapped and sold on markets."