MOSUL: Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in Mosul Saturday as a jihadist ultimatum threatening their community’s centuries-old presence in the northern Iraqi city expired.
An AFP correspondent in Mosul, the main Iraqi hub of the Islamic State (IS) group’s proclaimed “caliphate”, said Christians squeezed into private cars and taxis to beat the noon deadline.
“Some families have had all their money and jewellery taken from them at an insurgent checkpoint as they fled the city,” said Abu Rayan, a Mosul Christian who had just driven out with his family.
The jihadists, who have run the city since a sweeping military offensive that began six weeks ago, had told the thousands of Christians in Mosul they could convert, pay a special tax or leave.
An earlier statement by Mosul’s new rulers had said there would be “nothing for them but the sword” if Christians did not abide by those conditions by 0900 GMT on Saturday.
While some families initially appeared prepared to pay the “jizya” Islamic tribute to stay in their homes, messages broadcast by mosques on Friday sparked an exodus.
A teacher who gave his name only as Fadi was among a handful who had decided to stay.
“I’m staying. I already feel dead,” he told AFP by telephone moments before the deadline ran out. “Only my soul remains, and if they want to take that I don’t have a problem.”
Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako, who heads the largest Christian community in Iraq, estimated there were still 25,000 Christians in Mosul on Thursday.
The Iraqi Red Crescent said at least 200 families had fled on Saturday alone. “This is ethnic cleansing but nobody is speaking up,” Yonadam Kanna, Iraq’s most prominent Christian politician, said. Other minorities rooted in the same province of Nineveh have suffered even more, with many kidnapped and killed.
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