The last of nearly 250 Assyrian Christians kidnapped by the "Islamic State" in Syria have been released in exchange for millions of dollars in ransom money. The community is under threat across the Middle East.
A group of 42 Assyrian Christians, including women and children, were handed over after months of negotiations between Assyrian leaders and the radical Sunni jihadist group.
IS captured around 250 members of the ancient Christian community last February after the terror group overran parts of northeastern Hassakeh province in northern Syria.
Much of the Assyrian homeland has since been retaken by Syrian Kurdish forces and allied Arab and Christian militia (pictured above).
Members of the religious community that still speaks the language of Jesus have been periodically released in exchange for ransom payments.
Earlier releases had reportedly been arranged through the mediation of Arab tribes in the region, but an Assyrian organization said a priest had been involved in the last release.
One of IS' main sources of funding is ransom, netting the terror group tens of millions of dollars a year.
Assyrian organizations would not say how much ransom was paid, but told the AP news agency that it was less than the $18 million IS demanded.
The funds were gathered through a drive that tapped into the Assyrian Christian diaspora.
The Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization said in a statement it "wishes to extend its unreserved thanks to all those supporters, both institutional and individual, who have stood with the Assyrians of Syria in this arduous 12-month period."
Largely located in ancient communities in Syria, Turkey and Iraq, tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians have over the past century sought protection in the United States and Europe, especially Germany and Sweden.
Hundreds of thousands were killed or uprooted in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, leaving their remaining population a fragment of its former self.
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have exacerbated the persecution and emigration of many Assyrians and other Christian minorities seeking asylum in the West.
cw/rc (AP, dpa)