yazidi
August 11, 2014: Displaced people from the minority Iraqi Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border. The Islamic State, which had declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their livesRodi Said/Reuters

The Islamic State (Isis) has freed more 200 members of the Yazidi minority that were captured by the extremist group in the Sinjar offensive of last July.

The Yazidis, the majority of them elderly, infirm or children, arrived in the southern Kirkuk province, which is controlled by Kurdish forces, after being freed by the jihadists. Two children were also released by IS.

Rasul Qadir, peshmerga commander for Kirkuk, told Radio Free Iraq that the release was coordinated with Arab tribal leaders west of Kirkuk.

A reporter from Rudaw Kurdish news site said the refugees "are generally in good health and doctors are on the scene to help". They were captured during the dramatic attack in and around the northern Iraq town of Sinjar of last year.

Peshmerga forces retook the mostly Yazidi town earlier in December 2014, after a long siege by the jihadists. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of Yazidis are thought to have been killed when IS seized Sinjar in August 2014.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis were stranded on the nearby Mount Sinjar or fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrianism and Sufi Islam, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. They believe that God and seven angels protect the world, and one of these angels, named Malak Tawus and believed to be embodied by a peacock on Earth, was thrown out of paradise for refusing to bow to Adam.

Muslims view the figure as a "fallen angel" and consider Yazidis to be devil-worshippers and apostates.

Sunni militants stormed into villages in northern Iraq, forcing residents to flee. Those who stayed were given a simple option: convert to Islam or die. Hundreds of Yazidis were shot dead and women and children buried alive. Many women were taken away as slaves and raped.