KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - More than 200 elderly and infirm Yazidis were freed on Wednesday by Islamic State militants who had been holding them captive since overruning their villages in northwestern Iraq last summer.
A Reuters reporter saw the group of 216 people, which included two Christians, handed over to Kurdish forces near the city of Kirkuk. Some were too exhausted and disoriented to speak.
One elderly woman said she had been captured by the insurgents last August when they overpowered Kurdish forces in the Sinjar area and proceeded to purge its Yazidi population, killing hundreds and taking thousands captive.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said she had told her son and two young daughters to run away as the militants closed in, but stayed behind herself because she was unwell and did not want to slow them down.
“I had lost hope of seeing my children again, but today it has happened,” she said as they embraced her and wept.
It was not clear why the radical jihadists had decided to release the Yazidis, whom they consider devil-worshippers, but the group previously freed 200 more it was holding under similarly mysterious circumstances.
Some of the Yazidis said they had been held in the Islamic State stronghold of Tel Afar most of the time, but in the days leading up to their release, they were moved from one town to another in Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
The Yazidis thought they were being led to their execution, but instead, were piled onto a minibus that drove them to peshmerga positions in batches. Yazidi community leaders were there to receive them and an ambulance was on standby.
Yazidi activists say many remain in the hands of Islamic State, which has often subjected women to rape or sexual slavery. The United Nations said last month Islamic State may have committed genocide against the minority.
The Yazidis are an ancient, predominantly Kurdish people who follow their own religion derived from Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.
Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud; Editing by Angus MacSwan