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Updated Report: 72 Christian families captured, 50 besieged by ISIS after Syria attack

(World Watch Monitor) Sources from Syria’s embattled Hassaka province confirmed at midnight on Tuesday, Feb. 24, that at least 72 Assyrian Christian families – thought to be around 200 people – from three villages have been captured by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Reportedly taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier, the exact number of Christian hostages from the Tel Gouran, Tel Jazira and Tel Hormizd villages remains unknown.

An additional 50 or more families are still under siege in Tel Shamiram village, surrounded by IS fighters. Although on Monday Kurdish fighters from Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) took back control of Toma Yelda, an important hill on the battlefront, the military struggle for Tel Shamiram is continuing.

According to Archbishop Mar Aprem Nathniel, the Bishop of Syria of the Assyrian Church of the East residing in Hassaka, only 200 Christian families remain in the Khabour region, more than 100 in Tel Tamar and the others in villages not yet taken over by IS.

He estimates 1,000 families who have fled from Khabour are now displaced in the cities of Hassaka to the south and Qamishli close to the Turkish border.

Calls from abroad to the mobile phones of some Assyrian villagers on Feb. 23 were answered by IS members, according to a posting on the Facebook page of A Demand for Action, an advocacy group for religious minorities in the Middle East. “They told us that we should not call any longer since we cannot do anything about their situation,” said George Kasten, a Swedish caller trying to reach his relatives.

“IS members have been very clear with their demands,” he said. “They want the Syrian Kurdish militias to release the IS hostages they are currently holding. IS members say that if they do not release the hostages, all men from the village will die.”

IS has struck apparent exchange swaps in Iraq in the past year to release Turkish diplomats and truck drivers, after holding them hostage for months. But the gruesome propaganda video released from Libya earlier this month, showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, has underlined once again the jihadist group’s clearcut anti-Christian agenda. On Monday, during the attack, a regional Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported that intercepted radio signals by IS referred to the capture of ‘56 Crusaders’.

VOP Prayer Points:

  • Pray for these brethren, pray for strength, and courage
  • Pray for their Faith to remain strong
  • Pray for protection
  • Pray for guidance and release

UPDATE-IRAQ: No Assyrian/Christian Casualties in Iraq Christmas Day Bombings


Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) is reporting that On December 25, 2013 multiple news agencies, including AINA, reported the twin bombings in Dora, a formerly Assyrian [also known as Chaldean and Syriac] and Christian neighborhood in southern Baghdad. One bombing occurred outside of St. John Catholic Church. The explosion killed 27 and wounded 56. A second bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing 11 and wounding 21.

According to the wire reports, dozens of Christians were killed in the bombings.

AFP quoted a police colonel, saying “The attack targeted the church, and most of the martyrs are Christians. The attack happened when worshippers were leaving the church.”

Reuters quoted a policeman, saying “A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful…Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives.”

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, H.H. Louis Sako, issued a statement saying the attack was not directly targeted at the church. Also, Archdeacon Temathius Esha, an Assyrian priest in Dora, told AFP “The church has nothing to do with the attack, the attack was against the market.”

There is no doubt that these bombings occurred and that dozens of persons were killed. But questions were raised about the number of Assyrian/Christian fatalities, beginning with Patriarch Sako’s statement.

AINA contacted two Assyrians in Iraq to ascertain the facts of the case.

According to Pascale Warda, Iraq’s former Minister of Displacement and Migration, no attacks against churches occurred and there were no Christian casualties. “What some media reported was not right because the attack in Dora was in the market, where some other poor people were wounded, but not a single Christian was hurt, and no church was attacked.”

The priest of St. John Catholic Church, Fr. Firas, told Pascale Warda the attack was far from the church and no there were no Assyrian casualties. Fr. Tima, of the Assyrian Church in Dora, also told Mrs. Warda that his church had not been attacked.

The Christmas mass at St. John ended at 9 AM, the attack occurred at 11 AM.

According to Susan Patto, an Assyrian in Baghdad, because of previous church attacks, all churches have discontinued midnight mass and conduct mass very early in the morning, from 7 to 9 AM, and parishioners are discouraged from congregating outside the church after mass.

“The explosion happened after 11 AM.’ says Suan Patto, “There is a police station about 500 meters from St. John, and the car bomb targeted the police station. The church was closed and no one was there. The story about the church being attacked was first reported by Al-Sharqiya news channel and picked up by other news agencies. Most of fatalities were in the second explosion in the market, while the targeted police station had only few casualties. There are no known Assyrian casualties.”

According to Pascale Warda, the news of Christian casualties was propagated by those “who are unhappy with any establishment of security in Iraq.”

The Dora neighborhood was formerly a Christian neighborhood, with over 150,000 Assyrians living there. Beginning in 2004 a sustained series of church bombings, kidnappings and killings by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups forced most the residents to flee, most with literally just the clothes they wore, as they were not allowed to take any of their belongings with them (report). Now there are only about 3000 Assyrians remaining in Dora.

73 churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004: 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 8 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi.

On October 31, 2010 Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked Our Lady of Deliverance Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday evening during a church service. When police raided the church the terrorists set fire to their explosives, ultimately killing 58 parishioners, including two priests (reports, pictures).


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