- Title: Monastery ransacked by Islamic State freed by Christian fighters
- Date: 21st November 2016
- Summary: KHIDIR ILYAS, SOUTHEAST OF MOSUL, IRAQ (NOVEMBER 21, 2016) (REUTERS) BABYLON BRIGADES FIGHTER CARRYING SHI'ITE FLAG WALKING OUTSIDE MONASTERY BUILDING IRAQI FLAG FLYING ON GIANT CROSS BABYLON BRIGADES FIGHTER INSPECTING BUILDING OF MONASTERY GROUP OF BABYLON BRIGADES FIGHTERS WITH THEIR VEHICLES OUTSIDE MONASTERY BUILDING GRAFFITI SCRAWLED ON WALLS OF MONASTERY BY MILITANTS OF ISLAMIC STATE RUBBLE IN OPEN COURTYARD OF MONASTERY DAMAGED STONE SLABS OF MONASTERY AND DESTROYED PICTURE OF VIRGIN MARY RUBBLE AND REMAINS OF BURNT BOOKS OUTSIDE MONASTERY BUILDING TWO BABYLON BRIGADES FIGHTERS WALKING AMIDST RUBBLE AND ASHES OF BURNED BOOKS MAN TAKING OUT BURNED BOOK FROM RUBBLE (SOUNDBITE)(Arabic) SHEIKH HAZIM MATTI, BABYLON BRIGADES, SAYING: "The monastery and the centre of Nimrud were liberated, thanks to God and the efforts of the security forces and Babylon Brigades. The monastery dates back 1400 years. The monastery is for the Syriac Catholic community in Mosul and its nearby areas." MAN WALKING INSIDE MONASTERY BUILDING GRAFFITI ON MONASTERY WALL READING (Arabic) "REMAINING AND EXPANDING" - THE SIGNATURE MOTTO OF ISLAMIC STATE DAMAGED RELIEF ON WALLS OF MONASTERY ALTAR WITH (Arabic) "ALLAH IS GREATEST" WRITTEN ON WALL GRAFFITI ON WALL READING (Arabic) " THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH" DAMAGED SCULPTURE OF VIRGIN MARY TWO BABYLON BRIGADES MEMBERS WALKING IN MONASTERY / GRAFFITI SCRAWLED ON WALLS MONASTERY BUILDING VARIOUS OF MEMBERS OF BABYLON BRIGADES ON ROOF OF MONASTERY MEMBERS OF BABYLON BRIGADES OUTSIDE MONASTERY BUILDING
- Embargoed: 6th December 2016 19:46
- Keywords: Babylon Brigade Syriac Catholic monastery Islamic State Christian Mar Behnam
- Location: KHIDIR ILYAS, SOUTHEAST MOSUL, IRAQ
- City: KHIDIR ILYAS, SOUTHEAST MOSUL, IRAQ
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace,Military Conflicts
- Reuters ID: LVA00159E34NB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The history pages of Iraq's Christian community lie in charred fragments on the floor of a fourth-century monastery near Mosul which Islamic State militants ransacked during a two-year occupation that ended over the weekend.
The jihadists at the Mar Behnam monastery burned a collection of books about Christian theology, scraped off inscriptions written in Syriac - the language used by Jesus - and demolished sculptures of the Virgin Mary and the monastery's patron saint.
They removed the site's crosses and tried to erase any mention of Behnam, the son of an Assyrian king who, according to popular legend, built the monastery as penance for killing both his children after they converted to Christianity.
Their fundamental goal was to destroy Christian history and civilization in the Nineveh plains, Duraid Elias, commander of the Babylon Brigades, a Christian militia that helped retake the site, told Reuters, during a visit on Monday.
The Nineveh plains, a sprawling region north and east of Mosul, are a mosaic of ethnic and religious communities with roots dating back to ancient Mesopotamia.
The Sunni Muslim hardliners of Islamic State have targeted the adherents and religious sites of those minority groups across the area, which it seized in 2014 during a blitz across Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
At the time, the group issued an ultimatum to Christians: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most fled towards the autonomous Kurdish region, including a few dozen monks who left Mar Behnam with only the clothes on their backs.
As a 100,000-strong alliance of Iraqi forces now attempts to oust Islamic State from the city of Mosul, the scale of destruction in nearby Christian areas is gradually being documented.
The jihadists had converted Mar Behnam, Iraq's largest monastery, into a headquarters for the Hisba -- morality police, which enforced strict rules against such things as smoking, men shaving their beards and women baring their faces in public, according to Elias.
A sitting room had been turned into a medical clinic, and the monks' bedrooms were used to hold transgressors. A remote corner of the complex was filled with dozens of satellite dishes the commander said had been confiscated from residents nearby.
Islamic State graffiti covers the monastery's walls, including the group's motto: "Remaining and expanding". Another scrawl includes the date Dec. 24, 2014 - one of two Christmases the jihadists spent in control of the site.
Five weeks into Iraq's long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul, which itself once had a sizeable Christian population, the city is nearly surrounded, but government forces have established only a small foothold in a few eastern districts.
Fighting has laid waste to entire towns and villages, while Islamic State booby-traps, including in and around the monastery, mean it could be months or even years before some residents can return home.
The Baghdad-backed Babylon Brigades are the type of force that Iraq's Western allies have pushed to participate in the Mosul campaign in an attempt to secure local support for the expected rollback of Islamic State.
The Christian fighters at Mar Behnam monastery on Monday wore an assortment of military uniforms, carried large wooden crosses in their pickup trucks and flew banners including, incongruously, flags used by Iraq's powerful Shi'ite Muslim militias.
Many of the gunmen sported black headbands declaring devotion to Jesus or the Virgin Mary, and one had affixed a religious icon to his bulletproof vest, next to a hand grenade and two single bullets.
Elias, the commander, said his unit had fought alongside the Iraqi army to retake the monastery and the village of Khidir Ilyas where it is located. But the regular troops had since departed, leaving his men in apparent control of the area.
His men, part of a dwindling population of Arab Christians across the Middle East, are driven by a desire to keep their community alive after Islamic State threatened to destroy it for good.
Elias told Reuters his forces had so far demolished three or four homes thought to belong to Islamic State fighters in Khidir Ilyas to keep them from ever returning.
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