Islamic State militants have reportedly executed 15 Christians who have been captured in villages in northeastern Syria since Monday. A priest who has been feeding reports to Christian aid agencies around the world, including Aleteia partner Aid to the Church in Need, said today that a Christian Assyrian lawyer in the city of Hassakah told him that about 15 young Assyrians "are martyred. Many of them were fighting to defend and protect the villages and families." Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana of CAPNI, the Christian Aid Program in Iraq, said that in the Christian village of Tel Hormizd: 14 fighters, two of whom were women, were killed. One of the women may have been beheaded, he said. Another 13 fighters from different villages were captured. Altogether, including civilians, as many as 350 Christians from the area have been captured, he reported--many more than the 70 originally reported. Their fate is unknown, and there is much speculation. He said that an unconfirmed report said that a mosque in the Arab Sunni village of Bab Alfaraj was calling people to attend a "mass killing of infidels in the mountain of Abdul Aziz on Friday." Archimandrite Youkhana reported that none of the residents of one Christian village that the Islamic State attacked, Tel Shamiram, were able to escape. This village had 51 families, with an average of five persons per family, he said. "There was fire exchange between the fighters protecting the village and IS terrorist group," the priest wrote. "It is believed there are casualties and many are Assyrians are been killed in the village. No news on the destiny of the families. Most probably they are been captured and transported to Mount Abdul Aziz, a nearby mount/region controlled by IS." Other villages attacked included Tel Jazira, Tel Gouran, Tel Feytha, and Qabir Shamiya. He said that 800 families displaced from their villages have taken refuge in Hassakah and 175 in Qamishli. Those numbers are expected to eventually total 1200 families. The only ones left are fighters in Tel Tamar who are protecting the town together with Kurdish fighters. "They hope the region to be liberated and families return," he said. According to a report by Catholic News Agency, civilians fleeing to the Turkish border have been stranded as they are not allowed to cross. "There are 200 families who were running away and trying to escape to Turkey, but the border is closed for Syrians. No Syrian can cross into Turkey," Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo told CNA Feb. 26. Archbishop Hindo oversees the Syrian Archdiocese of Hassake, which is located in the Al-Hasakah region of Syria. The region sits between the country's borders with both Turkey and Iraq. The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday evening "strongly condemned" this week's abductions and demanded the immediate release of others taken by the Islamic State and similar groups. The United States on Wednesday condemned the attacks on Assyrian Christian villages, which it said included the burning of homes and churches and abduction of women, children and the elderly. Reuters news agency has this background on the situation:
The region is strategically important to Islamic State as one of the bridges between land it controls in Syria and Iraq. In recent weeks it has lost ground in northeast Syria after being pushed out of the Kurdish town of Kobani in January by Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes. These same strikes, however, have been unable to stop its advance into smaller villages. Heavy fighting continued through Wednesday night between Syrian Kurdish militants and Islamic State, Kurdish officials and [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] said. "ISIS now controls 10 Christian villages," observatory head Rami Abdulrahman said by phone, using an acronym for Islamic State. "They have taken the people they kidnapped away from the villages and into their territory," he said.