Christians from the ancient community of Mosul in northern Iraq have fled the city after being given a deadline of Saturday afternoon to convert to Islam.
Extremists from al Qaeda offshoot ISIL gave them a choice of denouncing Christianity, paying a protection tax, or death ‘by the sword.’
The militants seized Mosul in June, declaring a ‘caliphate’ and imposing strict Islamic law. Christian homes were spray painted with the letter “N” for Nasrani, meaning Christian.
Iraq has one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, dating back nearly two thousand years.
For centuries there have been mixed and diverse communities, but now Mosul’s ethnic and religious minorities have all disappeared. Human Rights Watch said ISIL had been killing, kidnapping and threatening minority groups in a “vicious campaign” in and around Mosul in recent weeks.
Priest Joseph Francis, from Mosul, called for an international military intervention: “We call upon the United Nations, the international community, America and the European Union to intervene on the ground, not with moral support of speeches and conferences. We want real support on the ground, a military intervention to settle this problem which the country is suffering from. We want them to support the Iraqi security forces and the army.”
Many of the thousands fleeing to take refuge in Kurdistan were robbed by gunmen on the outskirts of the city as they left.
Christians in other parts of Iraq now fear the campaign to force them out will spread.