An Assyrian bishop has confirmed that negotiations with ISIS have stalled after the group demanded $23 million (£15 million) in return for the release of 230 Christian hostages.
The hostages, Assyrian Christians from the north-east of the country, were kidnapped by the terrorist group in February. They are now awaiting a “trial” in an Islamic court under Sharia law.
According to A Demand for Action, the Assyrian rights campaigning groups, Bishop Mar Mellis spoke to SBS Radio in Australia about the negotiations between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Islamists.
The Assyrian hostages were taken from Hassake on February 25, and although some were released 84 women and 51 children are among those still held captive.
The bishop said: “We tried many times to negotiate with the people that captured them and for their release.
“We offered them an amount of money in accordance with the law of jizya [religious tax] but sadly after a week the negotiator between us returned and told us that ISIS wanted $100,000 for each person. They were asking for over $23 million.”
He said: “We are a poor nation. These people have not done anything wrong and won’t harm anyone. We as Assyrians do not have this amount of money you are asking for.”
“We offered an amount of money that we cannot disclose at this time. With the amount we offered, we thought it was acceptable, to have the return of the 230 people.
“After two days, they [ISIS] told us: ‘The amount the church offered was not acceptable. From now on, we will no longer negotiate with you.’”
“We then thought we would wait, hoping they would come back to talk. Sadly, we received word that the 230 kidnapped people will be sent to the Court of Sharia in Raqqa, where a Muslim judge from Mosul will deliver their fate.
“Since they have been taken to Raqqa, we have been trying to talk directly to the judge there. We want to give them the amount that we offered and want the judge to accept it.”