ISIS on the move in Syria, threatens Christian town of Sadad

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters)A man stands next to debris in homes at Sadad town in the countryside of Homs city, after soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad took control of it from the rebel fighters last week, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA November 2, 2013. Assad's army and the rebel fighters had waged an intense gunfire battle for control of Sadad, a historic Christian town.

MAHEEN, Syria (Christian Examiner) – Troubling reports about ISIS advances indicate the terrorist organization is proceeding toward Sadad, a predominantly Christian town in the Homs area of Syria.

ISIS typically treats Christians extremely harshly, pressuring them to comply with Islamic law and often punishing them with violence or death for nonconformity.

The nearby town of Maheen was taken over by ISIS on Friday, Nov. 1, according to Reuters. Government fighters were attacked while defending the town, and about 50 were reported to be killed or wounded. Maheen is strategically placed nearby a highway that connects Damascus to Homs, potentially opening the northern part of Syria to ISIS advance.

Fighting was also reported on the outskirts of Sadad. The town of about 15,000 people is home to 14 churches and a monastery, BBC reports. Area conflict over the past few months indicates ISIS is moving toward Homs.

"The latest development comes amid air campaigns in Syria by Russia and a US-led coalition," BBC said, although the town of Maheen was lost despite these airstrikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports sounds of an explosion in Sadad on Nov. 3, the second in Nov. "A massive explosion has been heard in Sadad town which is inhabited by Christians in the eastern countryside, likely caused by IS suicide vehicle, amid clashes between IS and the regime around the town," it said.

On Nov. 4, the Observatory reported, "Violent clashes continued till midnight yesterday between the regime forces and militiamen loyal to them against members of the 'Islamic State' in the outskirts of Sadad town which is inhabited by mostly by Christians, and information about casualties in the ranks of both parties."

EXTREME PERSECUTION

The struggle against ISIS has killed close to 250,000 people since 2011 and forced nearly half of Syria's population, or 11 million people, to flee their homes, Open Doors reports.

In addition to the threat to churches and religious artifacts, which ISIS has deliberately destroyed in the past, there is great concern for the Christians whose lives will be in jeopardy if the militant terrorists take control of Sadad.

Previously when ISIS seizes a town, it has demanded Christians submit to new regulations that include paying an Islamic tax imposed on non-Muslims, prohibiting the establishment of churches or the displaying of crosses, and offending Islamic religious beliefs, among other stipulations, Open Doors said.

Syria ranks #4 out of 50 on Open Doors' World Watch List, a tool to track the extent of persecution in the world. It is considered a site of extreme persecution.