As Iraqi forces' battle for Mosul lingers on, survivors from nearby Christian areas that have been liberated are returning to find their places of worship desecrated, just as a historic church building in the town of Keramlis on the Nineveh Plains had been converted into a military-style base with tunnels constructed under it.
Santa Barbara church in Keramlis, an ancient Assyrian town about 18 miles southeast of Mosul, now has tons of rubble and earth piled on it and a network of tunnels dug under it, according to BBC, which visited Christian areas in Iraq.
Militants from Islamic State, a Sunni terror group also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, had been using the church building as a military-style base, survivors found.
The majority of the residents of Keramlis fled after IS invaded it after seizing Mosul and surrounding areas two years ago. The Christian residents were told to convert to Sunni Islam or leave the town. Thousands of them fled to Iraq's Kurdish region and hundreds of others to neighboring countries, Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
"They (IS) are the grandsons of Satan," Basma al-Saoor, a Christian survivor, was quoted as saying.
The St. Addai church in the same town is also a scene of destruction. Its confessional had been turned into a closet, a tomb had been desecrated and red prayer benches were burned. Parish priest, Father Paul Thabet, was quoted as saying that those responsible must be brought to justice.
In nearby Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian-majority town about 20 miles southeast of Mosul and which was also liberated recently, homes and churches had also been damaged or destroyed. Now it's a shattered town, with ruins and bullet holes on buildings.
Iraq's ancient Assyrian city of Calah, mentioned in the Bible's first book Genesis and also known as Nimrud, has its monuments and statues destroyed by IS militants due to their "non-Islamic" character. Located on the Nineveh Plains about 20 miles south of Mosul, the excavated remains of the city have been reduced to rubble.
"It is part of cultural cleansing," Michael Danti, academic director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the American Schools of Oriental Research, was quoted as saying. "ISIS tries to destroy cultural diversity and is targeting the cultural memory by attacking places like Nimrud and Hatra," a nearby archeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage site still under control of IS.
In the ongoing battle for Mosul, which began about six weeks ago, about 100,000 U.S.-backed government and Kurdish forces are closing in on up to 6,000 IS fighters.
The terror group uses brutal methods to torture and punish those who it considers to be its enemies, including Muslims who do not believe in its version of Islam. Christians and other minorities are among its main targets.