Kurdish security officials say the Islamic State group has freed at least 216 members of Iraq's Yazidi community who had been held captive for eight months.
Witnesses say the handover took place Wednesday in the northern province of Kirkuk. They note that most of the Yazidis are elderly and in poor health, though a peshmerga commander said about 40 children also were freed, according to The Associated Press.
The reason for the release was not clear.
The mass release is the second of its kind, after some 200 Yazidis were freed in January by the Islamic State group following five months in captivity.
Thousands of Yazidis fled last August when Islamic State fighters captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, but hundreds were taken captive.
The Islamic State militants have declared most people in their path to be infidels, but seem to reserve a special wrath for those of the Yazidi faith. The ethnic Kurds’ ancient, monotheistic religion has links to Zoroastrianism.
In their advance across Iraq, the fighters have summarily shot and killed Yazidi men, kidnapped women and girls and boasted of selling them as slaves. Guidelines by the Islamic State group detail the types of sexual and other assault that slaves may be subjected to.
Yazidis have suffered repeated bouts of discrimination over the centuries, in particular by Arab Muslims who misunderstand their faith.