Friday, December 09, 2016

The Bishop who saved 200 Syrian lives from Islamic State

Extraordinary story of persistence and courageDeep inside Syria, a Bishop worked around the edges of international law to save the lives of more than 200 people from IS. 

It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed. 

The millions in ransom money came in dollar by dollar, euro by euro, from around the world. 

The donations, raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, and the diaspora of Assyrian Christians on Facebook, landed in a bank account in Iraq. Its ultimate destination was Islamic State.

Paying ransoms is illegal in the United States and most of the West, and the idea of paying the militants is morally fraught, even for those who saw no alternative.

“You look at it from the moral side and I get it. If we give them money we’re just feeding into it, and they’re going to kill using that money,” said Aneki Nissan, who helped raise funds in Canada. But, he said, there were more than 200 lives at stake, “and to us, we’re such a small minority that we have to help each other.”

The Assyrian Christians were seized from the Khabur River valley in northern Syria, among the last holdouts of a dwindling minority that had been chased across the Middle East for generations.

They trace their heritage to the earliest days of Christianity, their Church of the East founded by the apostle known as Doubting Thomas. 

To this day, they speak a dialect of Aramaic, believed to be the native language of Jesus. 

But most also speak Arabic and some Kurdish, the languages of the neighbours who have long outnumbered them.

In a single night of horror on February 23, 2015, ISIS fighters attacked the Christian towns simultaneously, sweeping up scores of people and sending everyone from 35 towns and villages fleeing for their lives.

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