The international Assyrian Christian community paid the Islamic State millions of dollars in exchange for 42 hostages Monday, according to various officials.
The captives were held for over a year after being kidnapped in the areas around northern Syria where Assyrians have lived for centuries. ISIS initially demanded a ransom of $18 million for the group, however, one Assyrian official told the Associated Press, “we paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million … We paid less than half the amount.”
Assyrian Christians from across the community initially sent an offer of $1.15 million for 230 total hostages in May 2015. ISIS rejected the offer and demanded $23 million. Through smaller agreements throughout last year, many of the hostages were released. The 42 hostages released Monday were the last of the 230 still being held.
“I am shaking. I have been praying for this day, I thought it would never come. They are on their way to the church in Hasakah,” said Sabah, an Assyrian who lives in Sweden but has family in Syria, to Newsweek.
Osama Edward of the Assyrian Human Rights Network noted that most of the 42 captives were women and children.
At one point, 30 percent of Syria’s population was Christian. Today, it is believed there are about 2.2 million total, though that number has dropped rapidly since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The dwindling Christian population in Syria is one example of a larger extinction of Christianity in the Middle East. Iraqi Christians who have resided in the Nineveh Plains for thousands of years were one of the first groups to convert to Christianity, but now they are about to be wiped out due to the turbulent nature of the Middle East and the ISIS onslaught. Juliana Taimoorazy of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council referred to the drop in numbers as a “form of soft genocide.”
ISIS is currently strapped for cash, which may explain why they accepted a lower ransom for the hostages. During a press briefing Feb. 17, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed coalition forces blew up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ISIS currency reserves. ISIS oil trafficking has also been seriously mitigated via air strikes, cutting in to the terrorists group’s primary stream of revenue.
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