ISIS In Iraq Threatens To Kill Christians, Burns Down 1,800-Year-Old Church

Nathan Francis

ISIS in Iraq is waging a campaign against Christians that includes torching an 1,800-year-old church and commanding Christians to either convert to Islam or be killed.

The radical jihadist group has seized control of large portions of Iraq, and in doing so imposed strict rule on residents in those areas. The group has particularly targeted Christians, and a photo on Saturday from the city of Mosul shows ISIS fighters burning down a church that had stood for 1,800 years.

Earlier, the jihadist group had posted a video that showed a tomb being destroyed with a sledgehammer. A government official identified the tomb as that of the Biblical prophet Jonah.

The torching of the ancient church appeared part of a larger campaign against Christians in Mosul. Earlier, ISIS in Iraq had issued a Saturday deadline for Christians to either convert to Islam, pay a tax, leave the city, or be killed. The message was reportedly broadcast from loudspeakers from the city's mosques.

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was "warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law."

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers reportedly painted "N" on the doors of Christians to signify that they are "Nazara," the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter "R" for "Rwafidh," meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

Patriarch Louis Sako told AFP on Friday: "Christian families are on their way to Dohuk and Arbil," in the neighboring autonomous region of Kurdistan. "For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians," he said.

The population of Christians in Iraq has dwindled to close to 1 million before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to close to 450,000 today. This group has been under near constant pressure from ISIS and other militant groups, and subject to bombings and assassination of clergymen.