JM Lopez / AFP / Getty Images

Number of Christians abducted by ISIL in Syria rises to 220

ISIL began abducting members of the Assyrian community on Monday, sending thousands fleeing for their lives

The number of Christians abducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in northeastern Syria has risen to 220, as the armed group rounded up more hostages from a chain of villages along the Khabur River over the past three days, activists said Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIL fighters have picked up dozens more Christian Assyrians from 11 communities near the town of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh province.

The province, which borders Turkey and Iraq, has become the latest battleground in the fight against ISIL in Syria. It is predominantly Kurdish but also has populations of Assyrians and Armenians.

ISIL began abducting the Assyrians on Monday, when they attacked a cluster of villages along the Khabur River, sending thousands of people fleeing to safer areas.

Younan Talia, a senior official with the Assyrian Democratic Organization, said ISIL had raided 33 Assyrian villages, picking up as many as 300 people along the way. It was not possible to reconcile the numbers, and the fate of the hostages remained unclear.

State-run news agency SANA and an Assyrian activist group, the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria, said the hostages had been moved to the ISIL-controlled city of Shaddadeh, a predominantly Arab town south of the city of Hassakeh. The Observatory, however, said they were still being held in nearby Mt. Abdulaziz.

The mass abduction added to fears among religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq, who have been repeatedly targeted by ISIL. The armed group has declared a self-styled caliphate in regions of both countries that are under their control, killing members of religious minorities, driving others from their homes, enslaving women and destroying houses of worship.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday evening "strongly condemned" the abduction of the Assyrians and demanded the immediate release of others taken hostage by ISIL.

The White House condemned the attacks, saying the international community is united in its resolve to "end ISIL's depravity" and promised more coalition airstrikes.

The Assyrians consider themselves the last indigenous people living in the region, tracing their roots back over 4,000 years to the ancient Mesopotamians.

The Associated Press

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