Terror group ISIS has been turning churches into prisons in the Iraq city of Mosul, which used to be the site of a large Christian community before it was driven out by the jihadists.
Fides News Agency reported on Tuesday that a number of detainees were recently sent to the ancient Chaldean church of the Immaculate Conception in the eastern part of the city. Sources have shared that St. George monastery has also been turned into a place for female detention, raising fears that women might be abused.
"The jihadists of the Caliphate have occupied the churches, including those which are very ancient," said Rebwar Audish Basa, Procurator of the Order of St. Anthony sant'Ormisda of the Chaldeans.
"Among the concerns that plague us there is also that of those who fear that a possible military offensive for the liberation of Mosul could inevitably lead to consider churches as targets to hit, since they have become logistic bases of the jihadists. And of course, the destruction of old churches would be an irreparable damage and loss."
ISIS, which has captured a number of cities across Iraq and Syria, took control of Mosul on June 9, and has been implementing its strict version of Sharia law ever since. The city has reportedly been emptied from its Christian population, which numbered over 60,000 before 2003. Believers have been faced with the choice of converting to Islam, paying a tax or being killed for their faith.
Mosul has been targeted by the U.S.-led coalition, which has launched airstrikes at a number of terror targets across the region. Earlier in November, airstrikes operation killed Radwan Taleb al-Hamdouni, the top ISIS leader in Mosul.
Reports stated that Hamdouni was killed in a car alongside his driver, and was buried by ISIS soldiers later the same day.
Meanwhile, American Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the fight against ISIS could take several years.
Kerry was speaking with coalition members at a high-level meeting in Brussels when he said that the U.S. would "engage for as long as it takes" to prevail, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"It is much harder now than when we started for Daesh to assemble forces in strength to travel in convoys and to launch concerted attacks," Kerry told over 60 ministers, referring to ISIS with its Arabic acronym. "No large Daesh unit can move forward aggressively without worrying about what will come down on it from the skies."
Persecution watchdog groups have been speaking out on the crisis in Mosul, as well as throughout Iraq and Syria. Mike Gore of Open Doors Australia said during the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church that the targeting and mass emigration of Christians has reached "an exodus of biblical proportions."
"Christians, not just in their hundreds, Christians in their tens of thousands [are] fleeing Iraq and Syria with little more than the clothes on their backs, because of increased pressure from the Islamic State," Gore said.