Europe

Ransomed: The freeing of 226 Christians from Islamic State

  • Zammo Marza, Sherineh Marza, Charli Kanoun and Abdo Marza, from left, kneel at the grave of Marza Marza in Saarlouis, Germany in this Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 photo. The Marza family were among 226 Assyrian Christians taken captive by the Islamic State group in a February 2015 attack on their villages in Syria’s Khabur River valley. It took a year to free the hostages, and only after three were killed and millions of dollars gathered by the Assyrian diaspora worldwide was paid to the militants, and in the end the Khabur region has been totally emptied of the tiny, centuries-old minority community. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

    Zammo Marza, Sherineh Marza, Charli Kanoun and Abdo Marza, from left, kneel at the grave of Marza Marza in Saarlouis, Germany in this Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 photo. The Marza family were among 226 Assyrian Christians taken captive by the Islamic State group in a February 2015 attack on their villages in Syria’s Khabur River valley. It took a year to free the hostages, and only after three were killed and millions of dollars gathered by the Assyrian diaspora worldwide was paid to the militants, and in the end the Khabur region has been totally emptied of the tiny, centuries-old minority community. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)  (The Associated Press)

  • A map shows the string of Assyrian Christian villages attacked by the Islamic State group along northern Syria’s Khabur River in this frame grab from “Silence After the Storm,” a documentary about the villages by Assyrian filmmaker Sargon Saadi. The villages now stand virtually deserted after the militants attacked in February 2015, taking more than 200 men, women and children captive and driving out the rest, all members of a community that traces its heritage back to the beginnings of Christianity. (Sargon Saadi via AP)

    A map shows the string of Assyrian Christian villages attacked by the Islamic State group along northern Syria’s Khabur River in this frame grab from “Silence After the Storm,” a documentary about the villages by Assyrian filmmaker Sargon Saadi. The villages now stand virtually deserted after the militants attacked in February 2015, taking more than 200 men, women and children captive and driving out the rest, all members of a community that traces its heritage back to the beginnings of Christianity. (Sargon Saadi via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Assyrian filmmaker Sargon Saadi discusses his film, ``Silence After the Storm,’’ at his apartment in Burbank, California, in this Nov. 16, 2016 photo taken from video.  Saadi traveled to Syria’s Khabur River valley in March 2015 to document Assyrian Christian villages attacked by the Islamic State group a month earlier. He used to play with friends and family in some of the villages when he was a child. The villages are now nearly deserted since the attack in which the militants took captive 226 people. (AP Photo via AP video)

    Assyrian filmmaker Sargon Saadi discusses his film, ``Silence After the Storm,’’ at his apartment in Burbank, California, in this Nov. 16, 2016 photo taken from video. Saadi traveled to Syria’s Khabur River valley in March 2015 to document Assyrian Christian villages attacked by the Islamic State group a month earlier. He used to play with friends and family in some of the villages when he was a child. The villages are now nearly deserted since the attack in which the militants took captive 226 people. (AP Photo via AP video)  (The Associated Press)

Over the course of a year, Assyrian Christians raised millions of dollars in ransom money to free more than 200 members of the ancient community who had been taken hostage in Syria by the Islamic State group, those involved in the campaign say.

The Associated Press has spoken with nearly two dozen people involved in the global effort to free the Christians. The donations were raised from church offerings, a Christmas concert, speeches, and Facebook appeals. An Assyrian bishop, working secretly in Syria, let negotiations with the militants.

Paying ransoms to IS is illegal in the United States and most of the West. But the Assyrians involved say they had no choice, desperate to save members of a community that is dwindling and vulnerable in the Middle East.