The Islamic State has barred Christians from leaving its de facto capital of Raqqa in an apparent move to use them as human shields as the terrorist group’s enemies in Syria begin to surround the city.
Activist-journalist group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered (RBSS) reported via social media Tuesday that ISIS officials are forcibly preventing the city’s few remaining Christians and Armenians from leaving, just as Syrian government forces and various other U.S.-backed militias continue to retake territory from the terrorist group.
“The suffering of Christians began with ISIS control of Raqqa,” said RBSS on its website. “ISIS looks at Christians as infidels loyal to the West more than their loyalty to their homeland which they live.”
According to RBSS, approximately 43 families remain in Raqqa, each comprising two to three individuals. Prior to the rise of ISIS, Christian families numbered as many as 1,500. The Syrian city has existed as a de facto capital for ISIS since its rise in 2014.
Christians once made up as much as 30 percent of the Syrian population, but their numbers have dwindled for some time. In Iraq, Christians numbered 1.6 million prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003, today that number is closer to 300,000. In addition to massacring Christian groups, ISIS is also known to have used them as sex slaves. Those fortunate enough to avoid slavery and death are ostracized from society in the caliphate, pay extra taxes (known as a jizya) and are forced to live in the shadows.
“The members belonging to [ISIS] told the Christian and Armenian families in Raqqa that they should pay tribute to the organization or get out,” said Jameel, a resident of Raqqa, to RBSS. The option to “get out” has since been restricted.
ISIS has consistently resorted to increasingly desperate measures as they have been pushed back by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), various Kurdish groups and U.S.-backed Syrian militias, among others. In Iraq, ISF and Kurdish Peshmerga (backed by the U.S.) are a week into an operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a city of millions and a key ISIS staging point. On the Syrian front, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, bolstered by Russian air support have seized the ancient Roman ruins of Palmyra, which became a noted ISIS staging area for both operations and propaganda videos.
While rolling back ISIS territory is a positive sign, there is little doubt that the order to keep Christians in Raqqa will lead to no good for an already beleaguered people.
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