4 Christians Shot, 1 Kidnapped Since Start of Iraqi Campaign Season

A gunman opened fire on two Christian university students in Iraq Tuesday, killing one and wounding the other.

According to initial reports, the gunman shot the Assyrian Christian youth after emerging from a car in the northern area of Mosul. The shooter later fled with two other men in the car.

A police officer, who asked not to be named, identified the slain and the wounded to Agence France-Presse as Zia Toma, a 21-year-old engineering student, and Ramsin Shmael, a 22-year-old pharmacy student, respectively.

"The area has been sealed off, and an investigation has been launched," the officer added.

Tuesday's attack follows two other ones in as many days. Armed assailants killed Rayan Salem Elias, a Chaldean Christian, outside his home on Sunday, and drive-by shooter gunned down Fatukhi Munir, an Assyrian Catholic, inside his fruits and vegetables shop late Monday.

Also, according to Italy-based AsiaNews, there has been a kidnapping reported – that of Sabah al Dahhan, a Christian man whose kidnappers have demanded "a high amount of money" for his release since he was snatched Saturday.

Though attacks occur on a regular basis in Mosul, the latest incidences have been attributed to Iraq's upcoming March 7 parliamentary elections.

Iraq officially kicked off the campaign season Friday and Christians, while a minority, have typically been the election-time targets of insurgents who try to push them out of the electoral process by casting fear into them and driving them out of their homeland.

Since 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed in Iraq, and since June 2004, some 65 churches have been attacked or bombed, including 40 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, five in Kirkuk, and one in Ramadi.

Persistent persecution of the small Christian community in Iraq has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee the country. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees estimates that some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country since 2003, or about half the Christian population within the short time span of six years.

While making up only three percent of Iraq's population, Christians account for nearly half of the refugees leaving the country.

Notably, Iraq is home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Many religious freedom groups have warned that if nothing is done soon to turn the tide in Iraq, the Christian population there will likely disappear.

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