Convert or die, ISIS ‘burns down ancient church’

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. 

Iraqi Christians receive communion

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.

However on Sunday, it was seized by ISIS fighters and its monks expelled, who were permitted only to take the clothes they were wearing.

Last week, the extremists gave Christians in Mosul three options: either 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’,” Mr Ibrahim said. 

Iraqi Christians, pray

Iraqi Christians, pray during a mass at the Saint-Joseph church in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on July 20.

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 via smugglers.

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