The number of Assyrian Christians believed abducted by Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria has increased from 90 to 150, activists said, amid reports that the militants may threaten to murder the hostages.
Members of the Assyrian Human Rights Network tell CNN that the group is planning to release a video later today in which it will threaten to kill the hostages if US-led airstrikes against the group in Iraq and Syria don't stop.
The location of the Christians, taken in recent days, is still unclear. A member of the Syrian group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently said on Twitter that he believed the group had moved a number of Assyrian captives to IS's stronghold, Raqqa.
Fierce fighting between Kurdish and Christian militias and Islamic State fighters continues. Kurdish militia pressed an offensive against Islamic State today and said they had cut an important IS supply line from Iraq.
"We have verified at least 150 people who have been abducted from sources on the ground," Bassam Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, a Syrian Christian group representing several NGO's inside and outside the country, told Reuters from Amman.
Fears for the fate of the abducted men, women and children are mounting. A recent video by militants claiming allegiance to the Islamic State showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, and the group's adherents have massacred other captives from religious minorities.
“This is another episode in the targeting to the Christians of the east,” Habib Afram, president of the Syriac League in Lebanon, told the Guardian. “We are witnessing the end of the Christian presence in the east.”
The Islamic State has targeted religious minorities as it seeks to control territory. It has publicized its killing, kidnapping and torturing of Yazidis, Christians and other groups.
Since the IS assault on the northeastern Syrian town of Tel Tamer started on Monday, an estimated 3,000 residents have fled to surrounding villages. Reuters reports that many Assyrian Christians have fled the country during the nearly four-year-long conflict in which more than 200,000 have people have been killed.
A resident of Hasaka, jointly held by the Syrian government and the Kurds, said hundreds of families had arrived in recent days from surrounding Christian villages and Arab Bedouins were arriving from areas along the border.
"Families are coming to Hasaka seeking safety," said Abdul Rahman al-Numai, a resident of the village, told Reuters.
Up to 132 militants have reportedly been killed in the last four days by a mixture of US-led coalition air strikes and fighting on the ground from Kurdish forces in Hasaka Province.
Assyrians in the region have recently joined Kurdish fighters to repel the Islamic State. Foreign Policy reported on the Assyrian fighters who have joined the cause:
Assyrians, an ethnic minority, represent one small faction of prewar Syria’s 1.8 million Christian population. The Syrian government, to the exasperation of Assyrians, has never regarded the Assyrians as a separate ethnicity, instead classifying them as Arab, while Assyrians consider themselves a separate ethnic group with roots in the region dating back more than 4,000 years. Their identity is closely associated with Christianity, the faith Assyrians have followed since shortly after the religion’s beginning. Historically oppressed and underrepresented in political life, the Assyrians in northern Syria have armed themselves in an effort to protect their identity amid the chaos of civil war.”