Islamic State terrorists have abducted 220 Assyrian Christians from villages in northeastern Syria in recent days, a monitoring group said Thursday, more than twice as many as previously reported.
"No fewer than 220 Assyrian citizens (of Syria) were abducted by ISIS over the past three days from 11 villages" in Hasakeh province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"Negotiations are under way through mediators from Arab tribes and a member of the Assyrian community to secure the release of the hostages," the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Reports surfaced Wednesday that nearly 100 Assyrian Christians had been kidnapped, prompting terrified families to flee their village homes and take refuge in nearby cities.
Nearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families have fled their villages in the northeastern province of Hasakeh since Monday's kidnappings, said Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network.
About 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hasakeh and 150 in Qamishli, a Kurdish city on the border with Turkey, Edward said, adding that the number of displaced individuals came to about 5,000.
Most of the hostages were women, children or elderly, he added.
Edward told AFP he believed the mass abduction was linked to the ISIS' recent loss of ground in the face of US-led coalition air raids against ISIS that began in Syria in September.
"ISIS has been losing territory because of the international coalition's strikes and they took the hostages to use them as human shields," the activist said.
The jihadists, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrian Christians for ISIS prisoners, according to Edward.
He said the aim of the jihadists is to take over the Assyrian Christian village of Tal Tamer, which is located near a bridge over the Khabur river that links Syria to Iraq.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish fighters battling ISIS terrorists on Wednesday recaptured three Assyrian villages and a nearby Arab village.
"The (Kurdish) People's Protection Units (YPG) have reclaimed Tal Shamiran, Tal Masri, Tal Hermel and Ghbeish," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman, adding that fighting continues in the area.