Middle East

Islamic State militants 'abduct Christians' in Syrian town

IS fighter on a captured tank in al-Qaryatain (picture by Rased News Network, a Facebook page affiliated with IS via AP - 06/08/15) Image copyright AP
Image caption IS militants seized al-Qaryatain after attacking it with suicide bombers, reports say

Islamic State militants have abducted dozens of people, many Christian, from a Syrian town captured on Thursday from pro-regime forces, reports say.

They were seized when the jihadists swept through al-Qaryatain in Homs province, monitoring groups say.

Many of the Christians had fled to al-Qaryatain to escape fighting in Aleppo province to the north.

Islamic State (IS) has treated Christians harshly in other places under its control.

The group follows its own extreme version of Sunni Islam and has previously ordered Christians to convert, pay jizya (a religious levy), or face death.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least 230 people were seized by Islamic State (IS) fighters in al-Qaryatain.

Some were taken from inside a church, SOHR said. It said IS was hunting down a list of people it suspected of "collaborating with the regime".

The Assyrian Federation of Sweden, whose members have relatives in the town, said about 100 families were being held.

The federation says it has not been able to contact anyone inside the town and the conditions of the captives are not known.

The SOHR said "at least 60" Christians were among those being held.

Earlier this year, dozens of Assyrian Christians were abducted by IS militants in attacks on villages in Hassakeh province in north-east Syria.

A local Christian militia said it believed the captives were taken away to a mountain, but their fate since then is unclear.


Syria's Christians

  • Thought to have constituted about 30% of the population as recently as the 1920s
  • Long part of Syria's elite - founder of ruling Baath party was a Christian
  • Before the war, they made up some 10% of Syria's 22 million people
  • Up to 40,000 of those were Assyrians. They speak Syriac, a form of Aramaic, the language of Christ
  • Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting
  • Some have taken up arms to defend themselves against Islamists

Syria's beleaguered Christians