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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Activists: IS Kidnaps 90 Assyrian Christians

by VOA News February 24, 2015

Islamic State militants kidnapped at least 90 people from Assyrian Christian villages during raids in northeastern Syria, activists said Tuesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said scores of local residents were abducted after clashes in the Khabur area of Hassakeh province on Monday.

The Syriac Military Council, a local militia, reported several fighters were killed when the Assyrians joined forces with the Kurdish People's Protection Units, known as the YPG, to counter the advance of Islamic State militants.

Islamic State fighters have routinely targeted religious and ethnic minorities, using kidnappings and killings in their quest for territorial expansion across Syria and Iraq.

Hassakeh province borders territory controlled by the Islamist militants in Iraq, an area where it committed atrocities against the Yazidi religious minority last year. Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, a predominantly Christian minority ethnic group, live in the neighboring countries.

Nuri Kino, head of the activist group A Demand For Action, which focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East, told The Associated Press another 3,000 people fled the violence to the nearby Kurdish-controlled cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli.

The Kurds launched an offensive in the region near the Iraqi border on Sunday with support from the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the militants.

In addition to 11 airstrikes in Hassakeh on Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition conducted 16 airstrikes in Syria in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday morning, the Combined Joint Task Force said. Ten of the airstrikes were focused near the city of Hassakeh, the task force said.

Monday's abductions marked the second high-profile attack by Islamic State militants on Christians this month.

Early last week, Islamic State allies in Libya publicized a video showing the beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christian workers who had been held hostage.

Assyrians, many of whom live in the diaspora, are using social media to draw attention to the case, using the hashtag #WeAreAllKhabour.

Town liberated

Also Monday, Iraqi forces were able to liberate the town of al-Baghdadi from Islamic State militants, according to the Iraq Defense Ministry and a U.S. commander.

A local official said there was heavy fighting on Monday and some militants were killed and their vehicles destroyed. Al-Baghdadi, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) west of Baghdad, was captured by the militants last June.

Sabah Karhut, head of Anbar Provincial Council, said Iraqi security forces had recaptured al-Baghdadi police station and had reached the town center. The Associated Press said it was unable to verify that the entire town had been liberated.

Lieutenant General James Terry, senior U.S. commander of coalition efforts in Iraq and Syria, said more than 800 Iraqi forces were participating in the effort at al-Baghdadi, which is near Ain al-Asad air base, which is used by the U.S.

The U.S.-led coalition advised the Iraqis from the air base and carried out airstrikes in support of the Iraqis, although the timing of those was unclear.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.

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