In a powerful display of triumph over evil, Iraqi forces erected a cross atop St. Barbara Church in Karemlash, a predominantly Christian town less than 18 miles southeast of Mosul, after liberating it from Islamic State.
Images released by Iraqi news agency Al-Mawsleya showed soldiers raising Iraqi flags over Karemlash and replacing the cross on the dome of the ancient church, which is situated on the ruins of a hill by the same name west of town.
Karemlash used to be the home of thousands of Assyrian Christians, many of whom fled the town when the ISIS took control in 2014. The jihadist group gave Christians and other religious minorities in the town three choices: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die.
ISIS drove out the remaining Christian population, forcing them to flee to Erbil, Iraq. The group reportedly burned an 80-year-old Assyrian woman to death for "failing to comply with the strict laws of the Islamic State".
During their occupation of the city, ISIS militants looted Christian homes and desecrated churches - including the 14th century Mar Behnam Monastery - even turning them into their training camps. Propaganda photos released by the group showed militants vandalizing monasteries and churches, smashing statues and replacing the cross with their black flag of terror.
Earlier this month, ISIS unsuccessfully attempted to destroy St. Barbara Church, reportedly filling the building with bombs before blowing it up.
The liberation of Karemlash was part of U.S.-backed operations to clear the entrances to Mosul, the militants' last major city stronghold in Iraq, according to Reuters. After a week, the force is around 10 miles from the city, which ISIS captured in mid-2014 before overtaking large swathes of territory in the country's northern and western regions.
Two other historic Christian towns -- Hamdaniya (Qaraqosh) and Bartella -- were freed over the weekend, Iraqi military officials say. On Sunday, church bells rang out in Qaraqosh, formerly home to 50,000 Christians, for the first time since ISIS seized it more than two years ago, Reuters reports. In Bartella, Christian forces marked their return by mounting crosses atop their orthodox church.
"I am going to put the cross on the church," one of the fighters shouts in video footage circulated on Twitter. "Watch this Daesh, I am going to put it on the church!"
Two of the men say a prayer after the cross is erected, and in a separate scene the church bells ring out.
"Our aim is to defend our land," one of the fighters told France 24. "We must never relive what we have just been through with Daesh. Our people are scattered. Some of our children are dead. We have to live in tents. Now I want to send a message to my people: Bartella is liberated."