43 Assyrian Christian hostages released by Islamic State
43 Assyrian Christian hostages have recently been set free by Islamic State in northeastern Syria. The released hostages, who were abducted in February 2015 from villages near Tal Tamr, are the last of over 200 Christians to be released after their kidnapping. Islamic State has freed the kidnapped Assyrians in stages, releasing 19 in March 2015, 10 in November 2015, 25 in December 2015 and 16 in January 2016. Some of the hostages were beheaded and the terrorist group threatened to kill the rest at one point last year if a ransom was not paid.
Islamic State is said to have received ransoms of $100,000 per person. Younan Talia of the Assyrian Democratic Organization said the terrorists had originally demanded $18 million for the hostages’ release, but that figure was reduced after months of negotiation. “We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million. We paid less than half the amount” said a local source who participated in the negotiations.
While the ransoms were agreed upon in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, it is not known where the hostage exchange took place. Several Christian aid groups collaborated with IS-affiliated Sunni tribal leaders to facilitate the trade. The Assyrian Church was able to raise the ransom to set the captive Christians free after receiving donations from around the world.
The Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization, which played a role in negotiating the hostage release, said that while it celebrates the release of the hostages, it mourns the lives of others killed by Islamic State: “While this news thankfully marks the end of the most recent tribulation, we mourn the tremendous losses, both human and material, suffered by the indigenous Assyrians of Syria. The destruction of their livelihoods in the historic Khabur villages is a loss for the Assyrian nation and for Syria as a whole”.