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US: Islamic State Must Release Assyrian Hostages

FILE - Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces vehicle in Mosul, Iraq.
FILE - Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces vehicle in Mosul, Iraq.

The United States demanded Tuesday that Islamic State militants release a group of more than 90 Assyrian Christians they kidnapped during raids in northeastern Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the attacks and said the militants must release all civilians they are currently holding.

"ISIL's latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," she said, using an acronym for the group. "ISIL continues to exact its evil upon innocents of all faiths, and the majority of its victims have been Muslims."

Psaki also highlighted ongoing violence by Syrian forces, saying the U.S. remains committed to finding a political solution to the country's nearly three-year civil war that has left more than 200,000 people dead.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in Syria, said Islamic State militants abducted scores of local residents 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.

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.

Monday's abductions marked the second high-profile attack by IS 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.

On Twitter, one user writes: "We've been getting ethnically cleansed for years and the world just wants to see us disappear #WeAreAllKhabour."

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