A small group of Muslims and Christians who worked together to spirit away civilians from an ISIS-controlled city were slaughtered, according to a Vatican-owned news agency.
The central Syrian city of Al-Qaryatayn is home to about 40,000 people and is situated on an oasis in the Syrian Desert. It was captured by the Islamic State in August of 2015, and the city's people endured eight months of rule under ISIS until the Syrian army retook Al-Qaryatayn April 3, according to the BBC.
A video shot after the liberation and posted on Al Masdar News, an English-language Syrian news site, showed a ghost town. Only a handful of people were visible, most of them hiding in alcoves or watching Syrian convoys suspiciously.
ISIS abducted hundreds of the city's people, including Muslims and Christians, and brought them to the terrorist group's stronghold in Raqqa. Many of them were eventually freed, according to the BBC, but some weren't so lucky.
The BBC describes al-Qaryatayn as a mixed city with a large Christian population, and a report by Vatican-owned Agenzia Fides details cooperative attempts by al-Qaryatayn's Muslims and Christians to get the most vulnerable people out of the city while ISIS ruled.
Organized anti-jihadists were able to bring small groups of people out of the city and get them to territory held by the Syrian Army. One group consisted of 10 "young, unmarried Christian girls" who were eyed as potential wives for some of the Islamic State fighters, according to Agenzia Fides. The covert anti-jihadist group was also able to rescue a local Catholic priest, the Rev. Jacques Murad, prior of the Church of Saint Elian.
ISIS fighters tried to discourage more people from fleeing by capturing a group of men and torturing them, Agenzia Fides reported. The terrorists threatened the victims with death unless they converted to Islam, the report says.
One group in particular used a farm just outside ISIS control as a "logistics base," where they helped Christians flee the city. The group, which consisted of six Muslims and five Christians, was wiped out in December when "about fifty members of an armed group not linked to the jihadists attacked the farm, brutally killing both the five Christians and six Muslims," per Agenzia Fides.
The attackers raided the farm for valuables left behind by refugees fleeing from al-Qaryatayn, the report said, suggesting they were mercenaries motivated by profit and not religious extremists belonging to ISIS.