Islamic State pulls down church crosses in northern Iraq as 200,000 flee
Islamic State, the jihadist group formerly known as Isis, have occupied churches in Iraq, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts, witnesses report, having overrun Kurdish troops forcing 200,000 to flee
By Barney Henderson, and agencies
6:42PM BST 07 Aug 2014
Islamic State jihadists who took over large areas of northern Iraq overnight have forced thousands of Christians to flee and occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako has said.
“(The Christians) have fled with nothing but their clothes, some of them on foot, to reach the Kurdistan region,” Patriarch Sako told AFP.
An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Koran attends a mass at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad (Reuters)
“This is a humanitarian disaster. The churches are occupied, their crosses were taken down,” said Sako. He added that up to 1,500 manuscripts were burnt.
The United Nations put the number of people who have fled as high as 200,000, and said that many thousands of people trapped by the militants on Sinjar mountain had been rescued in the past 24 hours.
“We’re just receiving the information right now. We’ve just heard that people over the last 24 hours have been extracted and the UN is mobilising resources to ensure that these people are assisted on arrival,” David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters.
It is a “tragedy of immense proportions”, he said.
Iraq's ethnic mix
Pope Francis called on the international community to protect Iraq's Christian community.
A statement delivered by his spokesman said the Pope joined the urgent appeals for peace from bishops in the Middle East and called on the international community to "ensure the necessary help" reaches people fleeing fighters from the Islamic State.
The US denounced the jihadist offensive, warning the situation for civilians driven from their homes threatens to become a "humanitarian catastrophe".
"It is a situation that that we are looking at very closely," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, following reports that President Barack Obama was actively considering military intervention.
Islamic State militants overran Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, after pushing back Kurdish troops across a large area of the north of the country, fleeing residents and Christian clerics said.