Around 250 Christians have been abducted by Islamic State in a key strategic town in the province of Homs, Syria, sources have told Christian Today.
Founder of campaign group A Demand for Action (ADFA) Nuri Kino confirmed that those missing are all from the Syriac Orthodox or Syriac Catholic churches, and the number known to have been taken is steadily increasing.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the kidnapping took place during heavy clashes between ISIS militants and government forces in the town of Al Quaryatayn this week, which ISIS has now taken. It is the group's biggest capture since taking Palmyra in May.
Those abducted include 45 women, 19 children and 11 families, SOHR said. Sources told the monitor that they were chosen according to name lists held by ISIS, and some were taken from the Mar Elian monastery, from which Syriac Catholic monk Father Yacoub Murad and Botros Hanna, a church volunteer, were kidnapped by masked militants in May. Their whereabouts is still unknown.
Speaking to Christian Today, Kino said it is difficult to say what exactly has happened, but relatives have been unable to reach those held by phone. Around 1,500 people were able to flee, however, many of them to the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Environs.
The bishop there released a statement yesterday pleading for money. "We received those displaced...and gave them the basic and essential needs because they went out of their houses without taking anything with them neither clothes nor properties; so we are working on providing them with clothing, housing, and medication," he said in a letter to churches and human rights organisations.
A separate attack on Hawareen village, about 10km from the town of Saddad, on Wednesday forced a further 1,500 to flee, who are now also being looked after by the diocese, the bishop added.
He asked for donations towards the cost of evacuations, food, water and hygiene products for those who have fled.
Kino has two relatives living in the area surrounding Al Quaryatayn. He hasn't been able to get in touch with them, but a contact confirmed they managed to escape ISIS. "It's like living in this horrifying drama that never ends," he said. "People are completely afraid".
Of the Church's response to the crisis, he said: "It [an ISIS attack] always happens so suddenly and the Church is never prepared. People are running around searching for their loved ones, and children...these are innocent people, not part of this war.
"He [the bishop] is crying – what is he supposed to do? All those clergy to last these three years in Syria and Iraq, my God are they heroes."