ISIS Kidnap Hundreds of Syrian Civilians

The Islamic State (ISIS) has kidnapped at least 230 civilians, including dozens of Christians, in a Syrian town it captured late on Wednesday, a monitoring group has confirmed.

The terror group overran the town of Qaryatain in central Syria this week in what was the group's most significant capture of a town since the fall of the ancient city of Palmyra in May.

"Daesh [the Arabic term for ISIS] kidnapped at least 230 people, including at least 60 Christians, during a sweep through Al-Qaryatain," the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP news agency.

Nuri Kino, the founder of Assyrian advocacy group A Demand For Action, who have a network of sources on the ground in Syria, confirmed to Newsweek that hundreds of people are missing from Qaryatain while many fled the town to the city of Homs, located 80 km from the town and controlled by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"250 people are still missing. 1,500 people fled to the churches of Homs, water, medicine, food is needed immediately," he says. "They are tired, they are exhausted from fleeing. [Unidentified negotiators] are trying to negotiate and beg ISIS to release them since there are children and women among them who are innocent," he reveals.

Kino says that the world is standing by while a "genocide" of Christians is taking place, and compares the reaction to the killing of Cecil the lion and the kidnap of Christians by ISIS. "We will not give up being a voice for these people," he continues. "It's devastating that a lot of people spoke up for [Cecil] the lion but the same people do not speak up for children being kidnapped and sold on markets."

Qaryatain, located 104 km southwest of Palmyra, was controlled by Syrian regime troops but the forces were overrun by the radical Islamists, who released photos of militants posing in the town on social media, after they had detonated a series of suicide bombs on army checkpoints.

Before the attack, the town held a population of only 300 Christians, down from a pre-war population of 2,000 Syriac Catholics and Orthodox Christians, according to AFP. The rest of the town's population is made up of Sunni Muslims.

Benjamin Decker, analyst at the Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the chances of the hostages being released is unlikely as ISIS's operation was a successful attempt to destabilise the governance that was present in the town.

"I don't really see a good chance of them being released, whether they are kept in captivity, sold as sex slaves or killed," he says. "The prospect of their release is very slim."

"I don't think we are in a situation where they will be offering a ransom for their release," he adds. "This was a political intelligence operation to disrupt some sort of governance that was existing in the town before they entered."

Masked gunmen kidnapped a Syrian priest from the town in May, taking him from the Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery. The monastery is now under threat due to ISIS's ultra-conservative ideology which believes that pre-Islamic idolatry must be destroyed and perceives Christians to be kuffar (infidels). In June, the group destroyed the tomb of Sheikh Mohammed Ali near Palmyra after announcing it would begin "removing the landmarks of polytheism" in the area.

While the terror group's plans for the hostages remain unclear, attempts to secure their release will be a costly endeavour for the Christian community. Earlier this year, it was revealed that ISIS militants rejected an offer of $1.15 million from the Assyrian community for the release of 230 Assyrian Christians being held in northeastern Syria by the terror group.