BEIRUT: Islamic State militants have abducted at least 70 Assyrian Christians, including women and children, after overrunning a string of villages in northeastern Syria, two activist groups said Tuesday.
The extremist fighters swept through the Assyrian villages nestled along the banks of Khabur River near the town of Tal Tamr in Hassakeh province around dawn on Monday.
In the assault, the militants took between 70 and 100 Assyrians captive, said Nuri Kino, the head of the activist group A Demand For Action that focuses on religious minorities in the Middle East. Kino said his organization based its information on conversations with villagers who fled the onslaught and their relatives.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the abductions, but put the number of Assyrians held by the Islamic State group at 90. The Observatory relies on a network of activists inside Syria.
Both activist groups said that most of the captives come from the village of Tal Shamiram, located some 85 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of the provincial capital of Qamishli.
It was not immediately clear what the Islamic State group planned to do with the Assyrians.
The militants have a long history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the Islamic State group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.
But the Islamic State group also could use its Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish and Christian militias that it faced off against in northeastern Syria. There is a precedent: the extremists have released Kurdish school children as well as Turkish truck drivers and diplomats after holding them for months.