Islamists militants who seized parts of northern and western Iraq last month posted images online Saturday of at least ten shrines and mosques they claim they have destroyed in the province of Nineveh. Photos show bulldozers knocking down Sunni Arab and Sufi shrines and explosives destroying six Shiite mosques.
Residents of Mosul, which is the capital of Nineveh, said the militants have also occupied two cathedrals belonging to Chaldean and Orthodox Christians. Crosses on the churches have been replaced by the black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group which recently declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
On Tuesday, two nuns and three orphans went missing from an orphanage in Mosul. It is believed they have been kidnapped by ISIS militants. On Saturday, a senior Christian leader in Iraq appealed for their release. “We are appealing for scholars in Mosul and tribal sheikhs to help us release two nuns and three orphans,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako. “Christians are not party to these events,” Sako added. “We lived together side-by-side (with Muslims) for 14 centuries. We still want to communicate and live together.”
Iraq’s Christian community has dwindled to a small fraction of what it had once been — once numbering more than a million nationwide, there are now fewer than 400,000 across the country. Nearly all of Mosul’s Christians have fled since the city fell to ISIS on June 10th; ISIS members bombed an Armenian church near al-Salaam hospital and ransacked the Church of the Holy Spirit. Two days after the raid on Mosul, ISIS imposed Sharia law and began demanding a poll tax from Christians. On June 21st, ISIS members raped a mother and daughter who could not afford to pay the poll tax and killed four women for not wearing veils.
On Saturday, al-Furqan, the media arm of ISIS, released a video sermon purported to be from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the group. In the rare — possibly his first — public appearance on Saturday, al Baghdadi demanded that all Muslims swear allegiance to him. “It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you,” he says in the video. “I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.”
Shortly after the sermon was released on Saturday, photos emerged showing the destruction of the mosques and shrines on a website that frequently carries official statements from ISIS.