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ROME (Reuters) – In a final show of strength by the militant Islamist group Ansar al Sharia, it announced on Thursday it was holding a group of female Christians kidnapped from their Syrian village in recent months. The group had kidnapped the women shortly after the group seized a large number of young Christian men from the village of Al-Kobour.
The news of the group’s latest holdings prompted fierce criticism from rights groups and Christians.
The group, which said in a statement it was holding the Christians for ransom, said the women had had to pay a ransom and could face execution. The group did not elaborate on the ransom.
A U.N.-appointed panel of experts in Geneva said last month it had found enough probable cause to open a probe into the abduction of the young men, some 18 years old.
Earlier on Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which set up a committee of experts for the investigation into the abduction of the young Christians last month, said it had reached an agreement with the group.
The ICRC said the Christians were being held in Aleppo, the main city in the country controlled by the militant group Islamic State which controls most of northern Syria.
A spokesman for Islamic State, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, had threatened to kill the villagers, the representative of the ICRC said in a statement.
“The ICRC reiterates its commitment to support the safety of the kidnapped female refugees by offering to deliver them to an impartial and independent humanitarian organization, especially considering the circumstances in the besieged and isolated Aleppo,” said a statement from the ICRC.
RISING SOPHILE EFFECTS
The abductions sparked a fierce battle in Syria’s northeast between the Islamic State and rebels battling government forces. It also raised questions about the way Islamic State operates in the country, especially when dealing with civilians.
In September the group overran the village of Al-Kobour, forcing many Christian families to flee amid claims that they were being beheaded. The group later denied it was responsible for those reported beheadings.
One of the children was later killed in an air strike, rights groups said. Other Christians in the village appeared to be intimidated by the militants and fled, rights groups say.
On Wednesday, a group of Christian women wearing the full-face veil marched in front of the government
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