Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The few remaining Christian families in the Iraqi city of Mosul have been told to ‘convert or die’ by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants following the end of a controversial deadline to flee the city.
The Al-Qaeda breakaway group, which recently announced the formation of an Islamic state in an area encompassing eastern Syria and western Iraq, took over the northern city of Mosul last month, backed by local Sunni Arab tribal rebels.
ISIS had announced a weekend deadline for Mosul’s Christians—the majority of whom are Assyrian—to renounce their faith and convert to Islam or leave the city, forcing thousands to flee with few or no possessions.
“Around 25 Christian families remain trapped in Mosul. They are families with sick or elderly members who have not been able to get out of the city. They now find themselves under siege by ISIS,” Duraid Hikmat Tobia, an advisor to the governor of Nineveh, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Some of these families were attacked by militants and taken to ISIS-run Islamic Shari’a law courts. They were given the choice between [converting to] Islam or execution.”
Radical Islamists usually ask non-Muslims to choose between either paying the jizya (a tax levied on non-Muslims) or converting to Islam. However, ISIS appears to have gone one step further, threatening Mosul’s remaining Christians with death if they do not convert.
“Five families have converted to Islam so far,” Tobia said.
ISIS militants have also set fire to churches and other Christian sites, including burial grounds, in Iraq’s second city. Local and international media outlets have reported that ISIS militants have confiscated the belongings of fleeing Iraqi Christians, while eyewitnesses said that messages telling any remaining Christians to leave the city were broadcast on loudspeakers from the city’s mosques on Friday.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Nawzad Boulos, a spokesman for the Iraqi Christian group Soraya, said: “Over the past few days more than 1,050 Christian families have left Mosul after being evicted and robbed by ISIS.”
The displaced have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been able to repel the ISIS advance. Boulos called for Baghdad and Erbil to work together to set up refugee camps to deal with Iraqi Christian refugees.
In addition to the Chaldean Catholic community, Mosul also had members of the Syriac Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church.