The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is using religious minorities as human shields to defend its territory in the Middle East.
The radical militant group, which rose to power in 2014 after sweeping up large parts of Iraq, is feeling threatened by U.S. coalition forces advancing on its de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, according to Christian Today. In response, ISIS has refused to allow religious minorities such as Christians and Armenians to leave the city, attempting to use them as human shields to prevent U.S.-backed attacks from striking with full force.
"The suffering of Christians began with ISIS control of Raqqa," said activist group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered on its website March 29, according to Christian Today. "ISIS looks at Christians as infidels loyal to the West more than their loyalty to their homeland which they live."
Syrian Christians, which numbered as many as 1,500 before ISIS rose to power, are one of several religious minority groups that ISIS has targeted during its almost two-year reign. In 2014, Human Rights Watch reported that the extremist group was persecuting Turkmen, Shabaks and Yazidis, as well as Christians, near the Iraqi city of Mosul.
“ISIS should immediately halt its vicious campaign against minorities in and around Mosul,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time. “Being a Turkman, a Shabak, a Yazidi, or a Christian in ISIS territory can cost you your livelihood, your liberty, or even your life.”
ISIS is also using civilians as human shields in many cities, even if they are not religious minorities. In the Iraqi towns of Heet and Hawija, ISIS troops have embedded themselves into areas with high civilian populations in order to shield themselves from the advancing Iraqi government forces, according to Christian Daily.