Group: ISIS releases 37 elderly Assyrian Christians

Story highlights

  • ISIS militants overran Assyrian Christian villages in February, captured more than 200 people
  • 37 of them were released Saturday morning, the Assyrian Human Rights Network reports

(CNN)Nine months after their capture by ISIS, dozens of Assyrian Christians can finally head home.

The Islamist extremist group released 37 elderly Assyrians Saturday morning, the Assyrian Human Rights Network announced on its Facebook page, adding that they are all in good health.
    The freed captives traveled by bus to Tal Tamer, the northeastern Syrian city in the area where they and many others were kidnapped in an ISIS onslaught last February.
    Militants took 215 civilians captive when they overran some three dozen Assyrian villages and towns, the network's founder, Usama Edward, said at the time. Thousands of families fled, including about 600 who took up refuge in St. Mary's Cathedral in al-Hasakah, Syria.
    Saturday's news -- which follows a few other, smaller releases -- means that 88 of those captured are now free. The rights network said negotiations are ongoing to free to rest.
    The Assyrians have endured much in their history, which traces back some 4,000 years to the time of Mesopotamia, considered one of the cradles of civilization and birthplace of writing and literature. While their first religion was Ashurism, Assyrians have been predominantly Christian since the third century.
    But they and many other minority groups have been hit hard by Syria's civil war, which U.N. humanitarian affairs chief Stephen O'Brien said late this summer had left more than 250,000 people dead and some 7.6 million displaced within Syria. More than 4 million have escaped to other countries.
    While it's not the only warring faction, ISIS is a big reason why there's been so much heartache. The group -- which seeks to establish a caliphate governed by its extreme interpretations of Sharia law -- has shown little mercy to religious minorities and Muslims who dissent.