ISIS insurgents set ancient church on fire as Christians are told ‘convert or die’
IRAQ: Radical insurgents in Iraq have reportedly set
fire to a church, amid a wake of thefts and ultimatums directed at Christians
in the country’s second-largest city of Mosul. The Islamic State of Iraq and
the Levant (ISIS) wrestled control of the northern Iraqi city on 10 June in an
attempt to carve out a Sunni caliphate.
Large swathes of Christian and Iraqi property has been
seized by the militant group as it grows its governance in the aim of making
Mosul the capital of its new Islamic state. Another property seized by
militants, the ancient Catholic Mar Behnam Monastery, located 15 miles south of
Mosul, was a place of pilgrimage and an important Christian landmark.
However on Sunday, it was seized by ISIS fighters and
its monks expelled, who were permitted only to take the clothes they were
wearing. Iraqi Christians receive communion during a mass at the Saint-Joseph
church in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq,
on July 20.
Last week, the extremists gave Christians in Mosul
three options: convert to Islam, pay a special tax or be killed. They gave a deadline
of Saturday 19 July, which led to a mass exodus of Iraqi Christians -
communities that had had 2,000-year-old links to the country - on Friday, Al
Arabiya News reports.
Though a number of Christians - a religious minority
in Iraq - had already fled the city after hard-line ISIS captured it last
month, for many the ultimatum was the final straw. The city is now said to be
all but clear of Christians.
Iraqi Christians who have fled the violence say that
they had to either leave most of their belongings behind or have it stolen by
armed militants. “We had to go through an area where they had set up a
checkpoint,” Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq, 27, said of his family, as he explained they
were on their way to the relatively safe region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The militants asked us to get out of the car. We got
out. They took ... our things, our bags, our money, everything we had on us.” At
least 400 Christian families are making their way to Dohuk and Arbil, the UN
said, with Arbil’s governor, Nawzad Hadi, promising to protect the refugees.
Noel Ibrahim, who also fled the crackdown, said ISIS
gunmen stopped cars as they tried to leave and stole cash and jewellery from
the women. “One of the gunmen told us ‘You can leave now, but do not ever dream
of returning to Mosul again’,” Ibrahim said.
The number of Christians in Iraq began to decrease
after the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, which resulted in
sectarian violence swelling. The militants are using newly-seized oil fields to
fund their new state, Reuters reports, transporting the resource to mobile
refineries in Syria before selling the gasoline back in Mosul.
The group has taken over the Najma, Qayara, Himreen
and Ajil fields, though many of the wells are thought to be sealed and not
pumping. Larger shipments of crude oil are also being sold to Turkish traders