The Islamic State presented Christians in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, with a deadly ultimatum last Friday: Convert to Islam, pay a tax, leave, or face death. The order from the militants said they had until noon on Saturday to leave the city, and almost all of them appear to have left.
The Islamic State, which controls parts of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, ordered Christians in Mosul a couple of weeks ago to pay a tax, known as “jizya,” in return for protection, according to the Blaze. Jihadis then started occupying churches and seizing the homes of Christians who had fled, and militants have now apparently removed the cross from one of Mosul’s cathedrals, replacing it with the black flag of al-Qaeda. Reports that one of Mosul’s cathedrals has been burned to the ground, however, are unconfirmed.
Christians living in Mosul make up one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back 1,700 years. Their population has decreased dramatically since the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003, as it has in Iraq more broadly: The city’s Christian population dropped from 30,000 to just a few thousand, before the most recent jihadist offensive. In Iraq generally, there were about 1 million Christians before the U.S. invasion, a number that’s dropped to about 450,000 in the past decade.
According to a United Nations report released Friday, Christians are among several minority groups that are being systematically expelled or killed by Islamic State militants. Most of the Christians have reportedly fled to the areas of Iraq controlled by the Kurds, which are close to Mosul.