Iraqi Christians Return to Church Damaged by ISIS
There were gasps, followed by tears at a small church in northern Iraq as a group of Christians returned to their parish Sunday to find that everything had been destroyed, including the statue of the Virgin Mary which Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS/ Daesh / ISIL / IS) militants had decapitated before they left.
Keramlis, a Christian town on the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, fell to the ISIS in August 2014, two months after the extremist group took Iraq's second city of Mosul and surrounding areas, sending most of its inhabitants fleeing.
The town was liberated around three weeks ago as part of the push for Mosul, but most of its homes have been destroyed in the process.
Many residents of Keramlis, an ancient Assyrian town less than 18 miles (29 kilometers) southeast of Mosul, now live in camps in Iraq's Kurdish region.
Hundreds of others fled to neighboring countries, Europe, the United States and further afield.
Some of those returned Sunday to attend a service in their hometown, and check on their homes.
Emotions ran high when the church bell tolled for the first time in more than two years, but standing amid the ruins of their church, few could summon up hope for the future.
"It was amazing, I got goose bumps. The bell for us means a great deal," said Sahir Shamoun, an athletics teacher who drove four hours with his wife from Zakho, near the Turkish border, to check on their home Sunday.
Prayers were held under the watchful eyes of armed Assyrian Christian militiamen, known as the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, or NPU.
Christians once constituted a sizeable minority in Iraq, but their numbers have dwindled since the 2003 US-led invasion as many have emigrated to the West to escape violence.
Source: Al Alam