Militants form the Takfiri group operating in Iraq and Syria, ISIL, have abducted 220 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria in recent days
Militants form the Takfiri group operating in Iraq and Syria, ISIL, have abducted 220 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria in recent days, a monitoring group said Thursday, as international concern grows for the minority group.
The kidnappings -- more than twice as many as previously reported -- have prompted thousands more Christians to flee their homes to avoid being captured by the Takfiri militants, activists said.
"No fewer than 220 Assyrian citizens were abducted by ISIL over the past three days from 11 villages" in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"Negotiations are under way through mediators from Arab tribes and a member of the Assyrian community to secure the release of the hostages," the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Many of the abductees are said to be women, children or elderly.
The UN Security Council condemned the abductions, demanding the hostages be immediately and unconditionally freed.
Osama Edward, director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network, told AFP on Wednesday he believed the abductions were linked to the Takfiri’s recent loss of ground in the face of US-led air raids.
"They took the hostages to use them as human shields," he said.
ISIL militants, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrians for Takfiri prisoners, he said.
The United States also denounced the mass abduction of Christians and demanded their release.
"ISIL's latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Her comments were echoed by US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
"The international community stands united and undeterred in its resolve to bring an end to ISIL's depravity. The United States will continue to lead the fight to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL."