Gunmen Kill Iraqi Christian Outside Factory

A 30-year-old Iraqi Christian was shot dead Sunday, after gunmen in four cars showed up at the soft drink factory that he worked at, according to authorities.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported Sunday that the gunmen approached the factory, located half-way between Mosul and the predominantly Christian town of Talkeef, beat the factory's guard and demanded to see the facility's boss.

When Ala Bashir, the factory manager's brother, appeared, the gunmen shot him on the spot and fled, the officer told Agence France Presse.

Though it was unclear if Bashir was killed because of his faith, the shooting comes at a particularly sensitive time for members of his nation's faith community, which has shrunk to about half of what it was before U.S.-led forces invaded the country and toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Facing relentless violence and threats on their life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to leave their homeland. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees estimates that some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians have left the country since 2003.

Earlier this month, seven Iraqi churches were bombed over the course of just 48 hours, fanning fears within the Christian community in Iraq – one of the oldest in the world.

Many religious freedom groups have warned that if nothing is done soon, the Christian population in Iraq could disappear.