'They are not far from our convent,' a priest writes from besieged city. 'Pray for us.'
Christians are under siege in Iraq, according to several reports emerging from the city of Mosul.
Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona says he thinks Mosul’s last remaining Christians have left the city, which until 2003 was home to 35,000 faithful.
Describing reports of attacks to four churches and a monastery in Mosul, Archbishop Nona, 46, said, “We received threats… [and] now all the faithful have fled the city. I wonder if they will ever return there.”
The archbishop, who in the ensuing crisis sought sanctuary in Tal Kayf, a village two miles from Mosul, described to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need how the local community were doing their best to provide for crowds of people flooding out of the city and into the surrounding Nineveh plains, where there are a number of ancient Christian villages.
“Up at 5am yesterday [June 10] morning we welcomed families on the run and we have tried to find accommodation in schools, classrooms and empty houses.”
He said: “We have never seen anything like this—a large city such as Mosul attacked and in chaos.”
The archbishop said that in the 11 years following the 2003 US-led overthrow of Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, Christians in Mosul had declined from 35,000 to 3,000 and that “now there is probably no one left.”
He said the attacks on Mosul began June 5 but were initially confined to the western part of the city. “The army began bombing the affected areas but later in the night between Monday and Tuesday, suddenly the armed forces and the police left Mosul, leaving it to the mercy of the attackers,” he said.
The archbishop questioned reports claiming the militants responsible for the attacks are part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), a terrorist organisation linked to Al Qaeda and in control of key areas of north-west Syria. The group is also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
“I do not know yet who the group is behind these attacks,” Archbishop Nona said. “Some speak of ISIS; others think other groups are responsible. We have to wait until we have a better understanding of the situation. What we do know is that they are extremists; many people have seen them patrolling the streets.”
BBC reports have described ISIS ambitions to create an Islamist caliphate spreading from northern Iraq across to northwest Syria.
Meanwhile, a hastily composed email from a Dominican friar in Iraq and published on several blogs paints a very grim picture for the Christians of Mosul.
Father Najeeb Michaeel, O.P., describes the scene as “apocalyptic:”
Bad news. I write you in a situation of violence in Mosul that is very critical and even apocalyptic. Most of the inhabitants of the city have already abandoned their houses and fled into the villages and are sleeping in the open without anything to eat or drink. Many thousands of armed men from the Islamic Groups of Da’ash have attacked the city of Mosul for the last two days. They have assassinated adults and children. The bodies have been left in the streets and in the houses by the hundreds, without pity. The regular forces and the army have also fled the city, along with the governor. In the mosques, they cry “Allah Akbar, long live the Islamic State.” Qaraqosh is overflowing with refugees of all kinds, without food or lodging. The check points and the Kurdish forces are blocking innumerable refugees from entering Kurdistan. What we are living and what we have seen over the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The priory of Mar Behnam and other churches fell into the hands of the rebels this morning. . . . and now they have come here and entered Qaraqosh five minutes ago, and we are now surrounded and threatened with death. . . . pray for us. I’m sorry that I can’t continue . . . They are not far from our convent. . . . Don’t reply. . . .