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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

7/22/2014 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

One of the country's best-known Christian landmarks now under control of jihadists

Saint Behnam, a fourth-century monastery run by the Syriac Catholic church near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh in Iraq has been overrun by jihadists. Members of the Islamic State expelled the monks from the monastery this past weekend, sources say.

An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 11, 2014 allegedly shows militants of the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waving the Islamic Jihad flag and holding up their weapons as a vehicle drives on a newly cut road through the Syrian-Iraqi border between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah.

An image made available by the jihadist Twitter account Al-Baraka news on June 11, 2014 allegedly shows militants of the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waving the Islamic Jihad flag and holding up their weapons as a vehicle drives on a newly cut road through the Syrian-Iraqi border between the Iraqi Nineveh province and the Syrian town of Al-Hasakah.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/22/2014 (9 months ago)

Published in Middle East

Keywords: ISIS, monastery, monks, jihadists, seizure


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "You have no place here anymore, you have to leave immediately," a member of the Syriac clergy quoted the Sunni militants as telling the monastery's residents.

The monks reportedly pleaded to save some of the monastery's relics. The fighters refused and ordered them to leave on foot with nothing but their clothes on their backs.

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Christian residents from the area say the monks walked several miles along a deserted road and were eventually picked up by Kurdish peshmerga fighters who drove them to Qaraqosh.

Five monks have been expelled from Mar Behnam. Christian families in the area said there may have been up to nine people living at the monastery.

It was just the latest aggressive move by the Islamic State, which in June declared a "caliphate" straddling large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria. The group has threatened the Christian presence in the region spanning close to two millennia.

Hundreds of families have since fled Mosul, a once-cosmopolitan city which is the country's second largest and lies around 10 miles northwest of Mar Behnam.

Homes and belongings have been abandoned after IS fighters running the city issued an ultimatum for Christians to convert, pay a special tax, leave or face the sword.

Families who were forced on the road and leaders of Iraq's Chaldean and other churches said Mosul was now emptied of Christians for the first time in history.

The Jihadist fighters have been forthright in their goals to create a state based on an extreme interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law and have targeted all minorities in the Mosul area.

Other groups such as Shiite Turkmen, Shabak and Yazidis have suffered even more than the Christians, who have largely escaped summary executions since IS swept the region in early June.

The tragedy is immense for the nation's Christian community. Mar Behnam is a major Christian landmark in Iraq and a site where the local community and pilgrims traditionally pray for healing and for the Lord to grant children to their marriages. It is an ancient and revered Christian site.

Now, it is occupied by virulently anti-Christian Islamists.

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