A Christian man who fled an ISIS-controlled town outside Qaraqosh has shared how militants violently crucified his brother-in-law "like Jesus" and forced his wife and children to watch.
Esam, a father-of-three, told persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor that several of his wife's relatives had not managed to flee Qaraqosh before IS overtook the predominately Christian town in 2014. Like all Christians in the region, they were given an ultimatum: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax (jiyza) or be killed. Those who refused to comply with ISIS' demands were shown little mercy.
"My wife's brother was crucified by Daesh," Esam said, using another name for ISIS. "He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus."
Esam said the fighters tortured his relative from 6pm until 11pm; they cut his stomach open and shot him before leaving him hanging, crucified.
The Christian man revealed that eventually, a Swedish organization helped the man's wife and children, where they now reside. Like thousands of other Iraqi Christians forced to flee their hometowns, Esam is currently seeking refuge in neighboring Jordan.
Two other members of his wife's family, a Christian couple, were abducted by the terrorist group, Esam revealed. To this day, the husband has not been heard of since and the wife "now lives with one of the Daesh [IS] amirs."
Other girls from his hometown were taken as sex slaves: "We heard of 12 Christian girls who are with Daesh," he said. "They may be more. Our bishop told people not to tell if they lose their girls: it is a shame on the family."
Since 2014, a number of reports have emerged of ISIS militants killing and brutalizing Christians and other minorities for violating the caliphate's draconian laws. A decade ago, 35,000 Christians lived in Mosul. Now maybe 20 or 30 remain.
Last year, the Virginia-based Christian Aid Mission reported that the group heinously tortured and killed a 12-year-old boy, along with 11 indigenous Christian missionaries, after they refused to leave their homeland or renounce Christ.
"All were badly brutalized and then crucified," an indigenous ministry leader told the outlet. "They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them."
Thus, while Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with US and UK air support, continue to liberate villages surrounding Mosul, many Christians from the city are too traumatized by their experiences to return home.
According to NPR, other Christians are wary of returning home due to the destruction of their homes, a mistrust of Iraq's security forces and a fear that the Sunni Muslims in their area collaborated with ISIS.
However, Esam told the outlet that some of the damage done by IS has already begun to be reversed, as friends of his who escaped Mosul after being forcibly converted to Islam had been "baptized back to Christianity".
In light of the atrocities perpetrated against believers in Iraq and Syria, Mark Arabo, advocate for Chaldeans seeking asylum in the United States and founder of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, is urging world leaders to come together to ensure that there is still a place for Christians in the Middle East after IS is eliminated.
"Leaders around the world need to make sure there is a home for Christianity in its original birthplace," he told The Gospel Herald. "The US government finally recognized the Christian genocide earlier this year, but recognition isn't enough to act. We plan on talking to President-elect Trump's administration and making our point very known that we need to do everything we can to end this genocide. There are specific steps we can take, and we just ask for an open mind and open heart and to listen to our issue."