Middle East

Islamic State 'releases Assyrian Christian hostages'

Assyrian Christians, who have fled the unrest in Syria and Iraq, at a church in Jdeideh, north-east of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on 8 March 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The abductions prompted thousands of Assyrians to flee their homes in north-eastern Syria

Islamic State (IS) militants have released the last of more than 200 Assyrian Christians they kidnapped in north-eastern Syria a year ago.

Some 42 captives were freed on Monday morning, following mediation by the Assyrian Church, activists said.

One Assyrian group said IS had demanded an $18m (£13m) ransom.

Children, women and elderly people were among those seized when IS militants raided 12 villages along the Khabur river, near Tal Tamr, last February.

The assault prompted thousands of other Assyrians to flee their homes. Those abducted have been released in groups over the past 12 months.

'Ransom paid'

The Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 42 captives, mostly women and children, were freed on Monday, while the Assyrian Federation of Sweden put the total at 43.

Younan Talia of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation told the Associated Press that IS had demanded a ransom of $18m for them, but that the figure was later lowered following negotiations.

An unnamed Syrian Christian figure separately told AP: "We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18m. We paid less than half the amount."

The fate of five Assyrians who went missing last year was still unknown, he added.

IS has a history of targeting religious minorities, and it has told Christians living in territory under its control to either convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or face death.

It is estimated that up to 40,000 Assyrians lived in Syria, alongside about 1.2 million members of other Christian denominations, before 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began.

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