At least 220 Assyrian Christians have been abducted in northeastern Syria in recent days, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Thursday.
Observatory Director Rami Abdurrahman told VOA Islamic State fighters have attacked 11 Assyrian villages in the Tal Tamr area in Hassakeh province in the past three days, taking 220 people prisoner. He said they have now been moved to the Abd al-Asiz mountains, where they are still in captivity.
Map of Hassakeh province, Syria, showing Hassakeh and Qamishli
University of London expert in Eastern Christianity Erica Hunter said she is not optimistic about the fate of those abducted.
“I am sure that they will probably kill the young men, they do tend to do that, particularly if the young men have been involved in any militias, and there have been Christians joining up with the Kurds," Hunter said.
"The women will have the fate of what we saw in the Roman empire of being sold into slavery as sexual concubines," she added.
The Islamic State group has targeted religious minorities with kidnappings and killings during its spread across northern Iraq and Syria.
More Islamic State Coverage
Read more VOA coverage of the Islamic State group in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In Libya last month, for example, 20 members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority were killed by Islamic State fighters.
In addition to the kidnappings in Syria, activists said many more residents in the province have fled from their homes to the main cities of Hassakeh and Qamishli.
Kurdish fighters, backed by days of airstrikes from a U.S.-led military coalition, have also been battling the militants in the area.
Hunter said some Assyrians have aligned themselves with Kurdish militia, taking up arms in an attempt to defend their communities against Islamic State terrorists, known as Daesh.
Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Assyrian Christians.
History of persecution
Madawi Al-Rasheed, a professor at the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, said Assyrians have endured a long history of persecution.
More than a half-million Assyrians were killed from 1914-1918 during the Armenian genocide in what is now Turkey. In Iraq, they have been exposed to renewed sectarian strife since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Al-Rasheed said Islamic State militants have repeatedly targeted minorities in Iraq and Syria, and have often singled out Christians for persecution.
“It has a program of ethnic cleansing, of eliminating diversity and making everyone look like everyone else," she said. "And, therefore, minorities find themselves squeezed out of the territories under IS control.”