The Archbishop of Mosul has warned that a campaign of violence and intimidation threatens to wipe out the city’s last remaining Christians.
Stressing people’s growing alarm, Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona described how a sudden upsurge of killings had sparked still more emigration of Christians, raising concerns for the survival of a local Church which dates back to biblical times.
Speaking from Mosul in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Archbishop Nona described the murder of four Christians in as many days as part of a politically-motivated drive to force them from the northern Iraqi city.
Emphasizing that the attack had specifically targeted Christians, Archbishop Nona said, “If the situation continues as it has done, especially over the past few days, all the people will leave. It is very difficult to live in this kind of situation.”
“It is panic – panic always,” the archbishop continued. “The Christians don’t know what will happen to them – it is the same everywhere: in the office, at school or even at home. They don’t know if somebody is going to kill them.”
Archbishop Nona was speaking Thursday, February 18th, barely 24 hours after 20-year-old student teacher Wissam Georges became the fourth Christian to be killed this week in Mosul.
In what Christians are describing as ‘a massacre – like Good Friday,’ the killing came shortly after Zayia Thomas, an engineering student from Mosul University, was gunned down in the city’s al-Tahrir district. Fellow student Ramsen Shamyael, who was nearby, was injured in the shooting.
At about the same time, Catholic agency AsiaNews reported that two traders in Mosul were killed. Another Christian man was kidnapped from his home in Mosul.
Archbishop Nona said the attacks had prompted more Christians to leave the city, reporting that on Wednesday, Feb. 17th alone he had received news of up to 10 families fleeing Mosul.
Underlining that Mosul was by far the most dangerous place for Christians in Iraq, Archbishop Nona said that the city’s Christians had drastically reduced in number since 2003, when there were up to 5,000 families living there.
“What we are seeing is an effort to force Christians to leave Mosul. We don’t know who is behind the attacks,” the archbishop said.
Amid suggestions that the killings are linked to the upcoming general elections in Iraq, he said, “We think that they are politically-motivated – that some group has something to gain if all Christians go.”
Archbishop Nona said that the Church had begged the Mosul authorities to improve security but had been told that it was impossible to guarantee the safety of Christians.
The incidents are an early test for the 42-year-old prelate, coming less than a month after he became the Catholic Church’s youngest archbishop, replacing Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, who died in captivity in March 2008.
Mosul’s Christians have suffered periodic attacks, most notably in September 2008 when a series of killings and abductions forced half the faithful to leave the city. The majority subsequently returned over the following weeks and months.
Meanwhile others have sought sanctuary in the northerly Kurdistan region, where security is tighter. Many are determined to join family and friends in neighboring countries including Syria and Jordan.
Archbishop Nona concluded by appealing for help and prayer: “We desperately need you to pray for us,” he said, urging that more media coverage of the plight of Christians in Mosul was “very important.”
Supporting the Church in the Middle East is now a priority for Aid to the Church in Need, which recently received a request on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI to support the Church in a region “where the local Churches are threatened in their very existence.”