Christians flee Mosul after ISIS ultimatum to convert or leave

Worshippers attend mass on Christmas Eve at a Christian church in Mosul, about 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, December 24, 2009.

Worshippers attend mass on Christmas Eve at a Christian church in Mosul, about 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, December 24, 2009.

Christians have fled Iraq’s northern city of Mosul en masse before a Saturday deadline issued by the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for them to either convert to Islam, pay tax, leave or be killed.

Al Arabiya correspondent in Iraq Majid Hamid said the deadline set by the jihadist group was 12 p.m. Iraqi time (10 a.m. GMT). Hamid reported that many Christians fled the city on Friday. It is not clear if any remained after the deadline.

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.

Witnesses said messages telling Christians to leave the city by Saturday were blared through loudspeakers from the city’s mosques Friday.

A statement dated from last week and purportedly issued by ISIS that took over the city and large swathes of Iraq during a sweeping offensive last month warned Mosul’s Christians they should convert, pay a special tax, leave or face death.

“We were shocked by the distribution of a statement by the Islamic State calling on Christians to convert to Islam, or to pay unspecified tribute, or to leave their city and their homes taking only their clothes and no luggage, and that their homes would then belong to the Islamic State,” Sako said.

The patriarch, who is one of the most senior Christian clerics in Iraq, and residents contacted by AFP said Islamic State militants had in recent days been tagging Christian houses with the letter N for “Nassarah”, the term by which the Koran refers to Christians.

The statement, which was seen by AFP, said “there will be nothing for them but the sword” if Christians reject those conditions.

 
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