Over two dozen Christians kidnapped by Islamic State, including two children, have been freed, Christian Today has learned.
The Assyrian Church of the East in Syria today secured the release of 25 Assyrians who have been held hostage since February. A Demand for Action (ADFA), a campaign group for minorities in the Middle East, confirmed the release in an email to Christian Today.
Photos have been posted online showing the group being transported on a bus with a clergyman. The two young boys appear to be aged between 9 and 12 years old, and are the first children to have been released by ISIS.
The hostages were among more than 200 people abducted from villages along the Khabour River in northern Syria. These 25 were from the villages of Tal Jazirah, Tal Shamiran and Qabar Shamia.
ISIS have now released 113 hostages in total, and negotiations are continuing to secure the freedom of those who remain, believed to number around 100. ADFA told Christian Today that the Church is working "day and night to make sure all are returned to their families safely".
In October, militants released a video showing the execution three of the hostages, and threatened to murder those still in captivity if a multi-million dollar ransom was not paid.
Initially, ISIS demanded a ransom fee of around $100,000 per hostage, totalling $23 million. When it became clear that the Assyrian community could not afford it, the amount was lowered to between $12-$14 million.
The freed hostages have already arrived safely in the town of Tel Tamer, and were greeted by the Bishop of Syria and chairman of the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation, His Grace Mar Afram Athneil.
Spokeswoman for ADFA, Diana Yaqco, told Christian Today: "When IS stormed in February, we were left to wonder if this is it for Christianity and for Assyrians in the Middle East. After Mosul, we were sure that was it...but then Khabour happened. It's for these reasons our team in DC has been working very hard to ensure the Obama administration recognises this ethnic and religious cleansing of my people for what it is, a genocide.
"The Islamic State is a global epidemic of epic proportions which must be paralysed at its feet."