Islamic State kidnaps 90 Assyrian Christians, group training to fight back

By Andrew V. Pestano

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The Islamic State in Syria has kidnapped at least 90 Assyrian men, women and children as the ethnic group prepares to battle the terrorist organization head-on.

The kidnappings occurred during morning raids on Tuesday near the village of Tal Tamr in northeast Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Some Assyrians escaped to the nearby city of Hassakeh, which is largely controlled by Kurdish forces.


Around 14 Islamic State fighters died in airstrikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition in northeast Syria, while eight civilians, including five children, died after bombardment by Kurdish Peshmerga forces in a village near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The northeast region of Syria is strategically important as it borders both Turkey and Iraq.

Assyrian Christians in the Nineveh Plains in Iraq, near Mosul, have been training recently with Sons of Liberty International, a non-profit group, to combat the Islamic State.

Named the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU), the group consists of a battalion 350 to 500 Assyrian men, as reported by The Clarion-Ledger.


"We have rights to defend our land and to preserve our holy land, and to preserve our habits and traditions," NPU official Kaldo Oghanna said. "We will not convert to the jihadis."

Assyrians are a semitic, Christian ethnic group that resides mostly in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. About 1.5 million Assyrians live in Iraq.

The Assyrian Church of the East, officially named the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, was established in 33 A.D.

Sons of Liberty International said it provides free military training, support and security services to those who need it.

"Recognizing the failure of the international community and governments to adequately protect the defenseless and support those struggling for freedom around the world, SOLI founder Matthew VanDyke realized the need for rapid on-the-ground action to help those whom the international system had failed," the organization's website states.

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