"Islamic State" militants have demolished a monastery in Syria and transferred several dozen Christians to a site near its stronghold. Extremists used bulldozers to raze the Christian site to the ground.
The Mar Elian monastery, whose origins date back to the fourth century, was destroyed by “Islamic State” (IS) militants who published a photo online (pictured above) purporting to show the destruction.
The IS militants justified the destruction by saying that St. Elian, a Christian martyr from the third century, was worshipped in the monastery in the town of Qaryatain, German news magazine "Der Spiegel" reported.
The monastery, which has been repeatedly rebuilt and restored over the centuries, was one of the most important centers of the Syrian Catholic church, with the feast of St. Elian drawing thousands of pilgrims to the site every September.
IS captured the strategically-located town of Qaryatain in the central province of Homs in early August, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
Dozens of Christian hostages moved to IS stronghold
Islamic State militants captured 230 people, including dozens of Christian families, after taking Qaryatain, the monitor had reported at the time.
It claims that of those captured, 48 had been released and 110 were transferred to Raqqa province, whose capital city Raqqa is the extremist group's stronghold in Syria.
The Christians would be given the choice of conversion to Islam or paying "jizya", a tax on non-Muslims, according to the monitor, which tracks the violence of Syria's civil war through an extensive network of sources on the ground.
It is not yet known what has happened to the remaining 70 people captured after the seizure of Qaryatain.
Among them were 45 women and 19 children, including 11 families, some of whom were on a militants' wanted list, said the monitor.
IS considers Christians as infidels and has killed members of religious minorities and Sunni Muslims who do not swear allegiance to its self-declared "caliphate."
IS increasing territory near Homs
Government warplanes were still targeting the area with air strikes two weeks after the terror group took the town, the monitor said.
The Syrian army launched a large-scale counteroffensive to recapture the city, which lies in a region where some of Syria's largest gas fields are located, but so far it has made no significant advances.