(Photo: Reuters/Jacob Russell)
Christians in Mosul city in northern Iraq are fleeing en masse with others, as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who captured the city last week, are now looting and burning churches and forcing all women to wear the Islamic veil.
Assyrian International News Agency reports that the Sunni group ISIS – also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – has gone on a rampage, looting and burning government buildings, raising its black flag and burning churches throughout Mosul, the capital of the Nineveh Province.
Men from ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq that was formed last April, have bombed an under-construction Armenian church in a Left Bank neighborhood near al-Salaam hospital, the agency says, adding that the Church of the Holy Spirit has also been looted.
ISIS has warned all women of Mosul, including Christians, to wear the Islamic veil, and have set up checkpoints throughout the city to implement the warning, the agency adds.
Militants have entered Christian areas near Mosul, and have occupied the Assyrian village of Qaraqosh, according to World Watch Monitor. They have also entered the St. Behnam Monastery, it adds.
Vatican publication Fides reports that Christians are among the tens of thousands who are fleeing en masse to the rural Nineveh Plain.
Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer, writes for National Review that the border crossings into Kurdistan, too, are jammed with the cars of the estimated 150,000 desperate escapees.
Since 2003, the Christian community in Iraq has suffered severe religious persecution on top of the effects of the conflict and, as a result, it's shrunk by well over 50 percent, Shea points out.
ISIS fighters took control of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, without any resistance from Iraqi forces on Tuesday. Between 150,000 and 500,000 residents have reportedly fled the city since then.
"We believe that the best solution to all these problems is the creation of a government of national unity in order to strengthen the control of the State and the rule of law in order to protect the Country, its citizens and their property and preserve national unity," Patriarch Sako of the Chaldean Church tells Fides.
ISIS is among the major terrorist groups that are fighting government forces in Syria. The group has now made significant military gains also in Iraq.
The group, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appears to be aiming at forming an Islamic emirate in the Levant, a region also known as the Eastern Mediterranean, through "jihad." It is feared that it might soon become the world's most dangerous jihadist group.
The groups claims it has recruited fighters from Europe and the U.S., as well as from the Arab world and the Caucasus.
The group exploited the growing tension between Sunni minority and Shia-led government in Iraq earlier this year by capturing the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah in west Iraq. It also gained control of many parts of the city of Ramadi and has its fighters in many towns near the Turkish and Syrian borders.
Before organizing themselves fully, the group initially got support from wealthy individuals in the Arab Gulf States of Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are allies of the United States.
Sometimes the support came with the tacit nod of approval from the regimes in the Arab Gulf States. The group "took advantage of poor money laundering protections in those states … experts, and leaders of the Syrian opposition, which is fighting ISIS as well as the regime," writes journalist Josh Rogin for U.K.'s Daily Beast.
"Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it's coming from the Arab Gulf," he quotes Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, as saying. "Kuwait's banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq."