At least 200 Christians have been abducted by Islamic State (IS) jihadists from villages in north-eastern Syria on Monday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday at least 90 Assyrian Christian men, women and children were kidnapped in dawn raids near the town of Tal Tamr.
But other groups fear the number of those abducted could be higher. The Syriac National Council of Syria said they believed 150 Christians had been abducted, while the Assyrian Federation of Sweden said sources on the ground estimated between 60 and 200 people were missing. And a spokesman for the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia fighting alongside the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), told the BBC that between 350 and 400 civilians had been taken, and that some had already been killed.
The Christians were taken from the villages of Tal Shamiram and Tal Hurmoz in a predominantly Kurdish region of Syria that lies between Turkey and Iraq.
Sources told SOHR that they heard IS members saying via wireless devices that they had detained “56 crusaders” from Tal Shamiram.
IS fighters swept through a string of Christian-majority villages along the banks of the Khabour river on Monday.
More than 600 families have fled, a local cleric told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – around 400 to Hassakeh city and another 200 to the city of Qamishli. Others are reportedly trapped in their villages.
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, who works in support of persecuted Christians in the region, spoke to a bishop aiding those who have fled.
“Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel… told me the church and community hall are overloaded with the people and they are now [sending] them to the families in Hassakeh city,” he told ACN.
The churches in Tal Shamiran and Tal Hurmoz have been torched, the charity said.
The attacks come as Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by US-led air strikes continue to advance into IS-held territory. In Tal Tamr there have been fierce clashes between IS and Kurdish-run People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Archimandrite Youkhana said IS took advantage of the fact that the Kurdish groups had been fighting in other places, mainly the Syrian-Iraqi borders. “So there was less resistance to face IS fighters. In general, IS was supported by Arab Sunni neighbouring villages.” But he said some Arab Sunni villagers rescued Christians.
Archimandrite Youkhana said among those kidnapped were 14 young people who were defending Tal Hurmoz, and that IS soldiers had separated men from women and children.
He added: “Knowing the brutal barbaric record of IS with the captured, the destiny of those families is a major concern to us.”