Middle East

Islamic State militants release 200 Yazidis in Iraq

Kurdish Peshmerga forces help people from Iraq's Yazidi minority on 8 April, 2015 Image copyright Kermanj Hoshyar
Image caption There were emotional scenes as the Yazidis were released to Kurdish Peshmerga forces

Islamic State militants have released more than 200 members of the Yazidi religious community being held in northern Iraq, Kurdish security officials have said.

Most of the 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse, General Hiwa Abdullah told the Associated Press.

About 40 children were among those freed, while the rest were elderly.

IS attacked the Yazidis in Iraq last year, killing and abducting thousands.

Some of the captives told Reuters they had been held in the IS stronghold of Tel Afar most of the time, but in the days leading up to their release, they were moved from one town to another.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said many of the prisoners were too exhausted and disoriented to speak.

Meanwhile, Iraqi troops have said they are gaining ground in a fresh offensive against IS in the western province of Anbar.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The prisoners had been held by Islamic State militants for several months
Image copyright Kermanj Hoshyar
Image caption Troops were on hand to help members of the group following their release
Image copyright Kermanj Hoshyar
Image caption Many were suffering from poor health and had been neglected, according to officials

Military sources said the insurgents were trading mortar fire with government forces in the Sijariya area, east of the region's capital Ramadi, where IS has been dominant.

An air strike by a US-led coalition is reported to have hit militants who were trying to flee by boat on a river.

BBC correspondents say the new offensive is an attempt by the government to build on its recent victory over IS in the battle for the city of Tikrit.

Taken away

No reason has been given for the release of the Yazidi prisoners, who were originally abducted by IS from the area around Sinjar last August.

They were handed over to Peshmerga forces in the northern province of Nineveh on Monday, Kurdish commander General Westa Rasul told AFP. The group did not reach Kurdish-controlled territory until Wednesday, he said.

They were then taken away by ambulances and buses to receive treatment and care.

It is the second time a group of prisoners has been released by IS in recent months.

In January hundreds of Yazidis were freed, including several sick children, but many villages remain under IS control.

Who are the Yazidis?

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Media captionYazidis revere the Bible and Koran - but much of their tradition is oral
  • Religious sect found in northern Iraq, Syria and the Caucasus
  • Religion incorporates elements of many faiths, including Zoroastrianism
  • Principal divine figure, Malak Taus (Peacock Angel), is the supreme angel of the seven angels who ruled the universe after it was created by God
  • Many Muslims and other groups incorrectly view Yazidis as devil worshippers
  • There are estimated to be around 500,000 Yazidis worldwide, most living in Iraq's Nineveh plains
  • In August 2007 jihadists attacked Yazidi villages in Nineveh, killing between 400 and 700 people

Who, What, Why: Who are the Yazidis?

Iraq: The minorities of Nineveh

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