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Some of the tens of thousands of members of an ancient religious sect trapped in Iraq's mountains after fleeing Islamist militants have been rescued, the U.N. said Thursday. Yazidis are seen by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as "devil worshippers." Fearing execution at the hands of the Sunni fighters, many Yazidis left their ancestral hometown of Sinjar as ISIS inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces during a weekend sweep in northern Iraq.
"People over the last 24 hours have been extracted and the U.N. is mobilizing resources to ensure that these people are assisted on arrival," U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman David Swanson said Thursday. "This is a tragedy of immense proportions, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people." Many of the displaced people urgently need water, food, shelter and medicine, Swanson added. Another U.N. official said many of the children on the mountain were suffering from dehydration and at least 40 had died. The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, are part of Iraq's Kurdish minority. ISIS, which is considered more extreme than al Qaeda, sees Iraq's majority Shiites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, as infidels.