ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Christians who fled the town of Qaraqosh are reporting that the Islamic State (IS) kidnapped several women and a 3-year-old girl after they forced families from their homes last week.
The IS attack on the Assyrian town and the kidnappings, the first to be reported in a Christian area now under IS control, purged the town of most of its remaining residents. Fearing an IS advance, most had fled Qaraqosh, 30 miles southeast of Mosul, to Erbil in early August but some vulnerable residents were forced to stay behind.
According to refugees, IS militants took the women and toddler when they expelled the remaining residents — among them the elderly, people with disabilities, children and their female caretakers. A few dozen others, including a doctor, were ordered to stay behind.
One resident, Kafah, a woman in her forties who was looking after her elderly parents, told Rudaw that three men forced them out of their home and took them to a local health clinic with around 75 other residents. All of their possessions, including their money, documents and mobile phones, were confiscated.
“Women were told to take off all their gold jewelry, even their earrings,” said Kafah, who asked that her last name not be used.
They were then shuttled into a bus, where the disabled were forced to leave their wheelchairs behind.
“While I was helping my mother into the bus, I saw a bearded IS guy carry off a girl, about 3 years old, called Christina,” Kafah said. “Her mother started to scream and cry.”
Christina’s mother later spoke to Ishtar TV in Erbil about her ordeal, recalling how she followed the man who took her child. While the girl was crying, Christina was handed to an older man, whom the mother said was “one of those IS people, who was apparently their leader.”
She begged him, “Poor girl, what has she done wrong? For the sake of Allah, for the sake of Muhammad, what do you worship? Give her to me; I’m nursing and she’ll die if she’s not with me.”
The man “drew his machine gun and said, ‘Go quickly to the bus. If you come close to this little girl you will be slaughtered. We will slaughter you.’”
Along with the girl about seven or eight young women were also taken, according to Kafah.
One of the hostages managed to phone a family member and reported that they were taken to Mosul, including the toddler.
The kidnappings are the first account of mass abduction of Christian women and girls since IS seized Mosul in June, and follows the kidnappings of hundreds of female Yezidis when IS seized the Yezidi town of Shingal and surrounding areas earlier this month.
Some of the Yezidis girls and women have been able to make contact with their families and the press, reporting they were being held hostage and were sexually abused. They have not been heard from since.
Given that journalists and other investigators cannot travel in Nineveh province, most of which is IS controlled, it is difficult to confirm reports about the fate of the Yezidis and Assyrian hostages.
Most Qaraqosh residents fled the IS advance into the minority-dominated Nineveh Plains in early August, residents said. IS has targeted Yezidis, Christians, Shabbak and other Iraqi religious minorities. Thousands of Christians fled Mosul and surrounding areas after IS ordered Christians to convert to Islam or die.
Passengers on the bus were forced the cross the Zab river on foot, a long and harrowing journey for the refugees with disabilities. Family members and one IS militant carried those who couldn’t walk across the river, a journey made more difficult by the summer heat.
The victims said they had no water, food or medicine and the area was deserted because all of the villagers had fled for fear of IS.
One of the refugees hid his phone and alerted family members in Erbil, where most ended up taking refuge after crossing the river and being released by IS. Some survived the ordeal with just blisters and dehydration, though one elderly man was hospitalized in intensive care for three days.
Refugees who found refuge in Erbil’s Christian enclave of Ainkawa have called on church authorities there to organize rescue missions for the girls, but have been told that the church is powerless.
Kurdish and US forces, with the support of US air strikes, rescued tens of thousands of Yezidis stranded on Shingal Mountain earlier this month and have been hitting IS strongholds in Nineveh province. The US is supplying Peshmerga with weapons and continuing aerial bombings, but the joint operations have not included additional rescue missions for civilians trapped in IS-controlled towns.