Islamic State in Iraq free elderly Yazidis

image copyrightReuters
image captionMost of the Yazidis freed were elderly, disabled or unwell

The Islamic State (IS) militant group has freed at least 200 members of the Yazidi religious community in northern Iraq.

The group of mainly elderly Yazidis crossed out of IS-controlled territory and were received by Kurdish officials near the city of Kirkuk.

It is not yet clear why militants released them.

IS attacked the Yazidi minority community in Iraq last year, killing and abducting thousands of people.

Almost all of those released on Saturday were elderly or unwell, said Reuters. An early estimate of their numbers was put at 350, but later reports said there were some 200 in the group.

The group, including several sick infants, were taken directly by Kurdish Peshmerga forces to a health centre for treatment.

image copyrightReuters
image captionKurdish forces met the group at a crossing point near the city of Kirkuk
image copyrightAFP
image captionThe former captives were taken to the Al-Tun Kopri health centre for treatment

Khodr Domli, a leading Yazidi rights activist, was at the centre. "Some are wounded, some have disabilities and many are suffering from mental and psychological problems," he told the AFP news agency.

"These men and women had been held in Mosul," he added.

One elderly Yazidi among those released said some of them feared they would be executed when the militants ordered them onto buses.

Instead, they were taken to a crossing point between IS-controlled Hawija and the Kurdish city of Kirkuk.

One of them, an elderly Yazidi man in a wheelchair, told AFP that they had spent months in captivity.

"It was so hard, not only because of the lack of food but also because I spent so much time worrying," he said.

The circumstances surrounding the group's release are still unclear.

media captionKasra Naji reports on the horrific experiences of the Yazidi community

Kurdish Peshmerga forces drove back Islamic State militants in north-western Iraq last month, breaking a long siege of Sinjar mountain where thousands of Yazidis had been stranded for months.

But many Yazidi villages remain under IS control. Yazidi women and girls have been forced to marry or been sold into slavery by IS.

Who are the Yazidis?

media captionYazidis revere the Bible and Koran - but much of their tradition is oral
  • Religious sect found in northern Iraq, Syria and the Caucasus
  • Religion incorporates elements of many faiths, including Zoroastrianism
  • Principal divine figure, Malak Taus (Peacock Angel), is the supreme angel of the seven angels who ruled the universe after it was created by God
  • Many Muslims and other groups incorrectly view Yazidis as devil worshippers
  • There are estimated to be around 500,000 Yazidis worldwide, most living in Iraq's Nineveh plains
  • In August 2007 jihadists attacked Yazidi villages in Nineveh, killing between 400 and 700 people

The Yazidi community estimate that around 3,000 women and children are still being held captive.