Al-Qaeda-linked fighters kidnap 120 Syrian Kurds, monitors say

Hard-line Sunni fighters increasingly target Kurdish civilians after being pushed out of northeast by Kurdish militias

File photo provided by Edlib News Network shows fighters from Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra waving their brigade flag in northern Syria on Jan. 11, 2013.
File photo/Edlib/AP

Al-Qaeda-linked opposition fighters in Syria kidnapped at least 120 Kurdish civilians on Friday from a village near the Turkish border in Aleppo province, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) entered Ihras, 12 miles south of the border town of Azaz, and took the captives – including at least six women – to an unknown location.

The U.K.-based Observatory, which has a network of sources across Syria, cited Arab and Kurdish sources in and around Ihras.

The incident is the latest in a series of alleged kidnappings and killings by ISIL targeting Kurds.

In the past few months, Kurdish militia have driven hard-line Sunni fighters like the ISIL out of much of their territory, and have declared autonomy in the oil-rich northeast.

But the Al-Qaeda-linked fighters still control swaths of Aleppo province’s countryside to the west of the Kurdish-controlled region, and Kurdish villages in these areas are under constant threat.

ISIL had kidnapped 51 Kurdish civilians from the towns of Manbij and Jarablus northeast of Aleppo city since the start of December, including 10 women and children, the Observatory said.

Fifteen Kurdish families were evicted from their homes in Idlib province by ISIL in early December for alleged ties to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), according to the Observatory.

The PYD, an armed militia that has clashed with hard-line Sunni groups, is linked to the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Targeting Kurds

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday that both opposition and government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had recently stepped up abductions.

"In just the past few months, we have seen a significant and deeply alarming rise in abductions of human rights defenders, activists, journalists, religious figures and others by armed opposition groups, as well as the continuing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of individuals by government forces," Pillay said.

Over the summer, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters began moving into Kurdish territory in the north.

In July, prominent Kurdish politician Issa Hisso – who opposed hard-line Sunni control of the region – was assassinated, and militia leaders issued a call to arms to all Kurds, including women, to fight off the groups.

In November, Kurdish fighters forced ISIL and Al Nusra Front out of 19 towns and villages in northeastern Syria after capturing a key crossing on the Iraq border. The Yaarubiyeh crossing had been a transit point for arms and Sunni fighters carrying out attacks in both countries.

Complaining of oppression under Assad and his father before him, Syrian Kurds view Syria’s three-year-old civil war as an opportunity to gain more autonomy — much as their ethnic kin in neighboring Iraq have consolidated self-rule during turmoil there.

Kurds are Syria’s largest ethnic minority and make up 9 percent of the country’s population.

Syrian Kurds number more than two million of a total of more than 25 million Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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