Islamic State (ISIS) militias have uploaded a video showing the conversion to Islam of one of the Assyrian Christian hostages captured during the offensive carried out in the Khabour river valley last February. The video has provoked accusations of forced conversion under torture and the shameless exploitation of prisoners for propaganda.
In the video, which was released Monday, a man presented as an Assyrian Christian from the village of Tel Temir and identified as Sargon David pronounced the formula of “Shadada” (“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”) to certify his conversion to Islam.
Then he was embraced by jihadists gathered around him, and given the new name of Abu Omar. In the video, which was removed from YouTube, the man says he converted “voluntarily” and calls Christians of Syria to do the same.
One of the jihadists states that “many of them (the Assyrian hostages) have converted to Islam without any pressure from our side. They have chosen the right side of history.” The video message declares that many of the Assyrian residents in the countryside of Tel Temir have converted to Islam “and received the Caliphate’s blessing.”
Syrian Kurdish journalist Egid Yusuf has said that the Assyrians would not simply convert to another religion if not under torture or threatened with death.
“By such acts, the group aims to attract the sympathy of Muslims worldwide. This is mere propaganda through which the group tries to show mercy towards Christian hostages after obliging them to convert to Islam,” he said.
Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, head of the Syrian Catholic archeparchy Hassaké-Nisibis, was stronger still in his condemnation of the video. “These forms of propaganda are repugnant,” he said, “and outrage the conscience of every man.” They should “provoke rebellion, even by Muslims who have true piety,” he said.
“It is evident that the moral and physical violence on persons held in captivity is another manifestation of barbarism in which we have fallen. We pray that the Lord help and console those who suffer because of his name,” he said.
Earlier this month ISIS released 19 Christian Assyrians, including two women who were freed after negotiations with Arab tribal figures in Hasakah province. The group still holds hundreds of other Assyrians as prisoners, however, most of whom are being detained in the town of Shaddadi.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.