ISIS militants kidnapped more than 100 Christians in northeast Syria earlier this week, the United Nations said late Wednesday. The U.S. condemned the abductions, which it said included women, children, priests and the elderly.
"Hundreds of other civilians remain trapped in villages surrounded by [ISIS] fighters, and clashes continue between [ISIS] and local forces defending their communities," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.
They were taken on Monday amid fighting between the militants and Kurdish and Christian militiamen for control of a series of villages along the strategic tributary in the province of Hassakeh.
The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 220 Christians were kidnapped when ISIS fighters overran villages inhabited by Assyrian Christians, an ancient minority. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the differing accounts.
"ISIS now controls ten Christian villages," Observatory head Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters by telephone. "They have taken the people they kidnapped away from the villages and into their territory."
A family in Modesto, California, believes relatives were among those abducted in Hassakeh, The Modesto Bee reported.
"My mind is over there," said Sharlet David, who believes her brother Amo was taken. "It’s hard," she told the newspaper. "I want ... them to be OK. I’m praying for them."
It is difficult for journalists to work safely in the area and NBC News was unable to independently confirm details.
The abductions appeared to be part of a spate of ISIS kidnappings. In Iraq, a senior security official told NBC News that militants had taken 42 local people, including nine children under the age of 15, near Tikrit, earlier this week.
— Miranda Leitsinger and F. Brinley Bruton
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report