Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) terrorists are now demanding $100,000 per head to free each of the 250-300 Assyrian hostages they presently have in custody, according to an officer within the Assyrian leadership.
For months now, the United States has been putting the squeeze on ISIS’ finances, working to dry up sources of funds that include gifts from private donors, looting of captured territories, smuggling of stolen antiquities, and above all, oil.
The Islamic State’s move to financing through ransoming hostages may signal that these efforts have been at least partially successful.
A spokesperson for A Demand for Action (ADFA), a group campaigning for the protection of religious minorities, said they are worried that this is just the beginning and that ISIS will demand even more money, “not just for our hostages but this could open new doors for them. It’s over a month now, and they are still captives,” she said.
According to reports, third-party Syrian Sunni Muslims are acting as mediators in talks between the ISIS militants and the Assyrian leadership in efforts to free the hostages captured by jihadists following a February 23 raid on 35 villages in the heavily Christian province of al Hasakah.
“They know we cannot come up with this kind of money, so they are hoping other groups and countries will come up with the money,” the official said.
Twenty-three of the hostages have been released, while the rest remain in ISIS custody.
Nahren Anweya, international spokesperson for the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit, confirmed the ransom demand and said that ISIS had been using the hostages, including children, as human shields during attacks by Syrian soldiers.
According to Syrian media, ISIS militants transported large groups of Christian captives to areas of intense fighting against Kurdish and Christian militias.
On Easter Sunday, militants from the Islamic State blew up the 80-year-old church of the Virgin Mary in Tal Nasri village in the western countryside of Hasaka province, in northeastern Syria.
Since last February, Tal Nasri has been under the control of the jihadist group led by self-proclaimed Caliph al-Baghdadi. Fighters of Kurdish militias, along with Christians who have taken up arms, have been struggling for some time trying to regain control of the village.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.