Imprisoned And Beaten For Being A Christian: Life Under ISIS In Iraq
After two years living under the terror of ISIS militants, a teenage Christian boy has revealed the horrors he saw and experienced.
Ismail was just 14 when Islamic State overran Bartella, a Christian majority village in the Nineveh Plains just nine miles from Mosul, where he and his mother lived.
They tried to escape but were captured by militants and taken to Mosul. They later received permission to return to Bartella, but were ordered to convert to Islam. When the two refused, Ismail was put in prison.
"One day a Shia [Muslim] was shot right in front of me," he told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Erbil.
"The terrorists told me: 'If you do not convert to Islam, we will shoot you as well'. That is when I converted to Islam. From that time on, we concealed that we were Christians."
The pair were moved to a number of different locations, including Mosul. There, Ismail saw a group of children shoot dead orange-clad captives. He also witnessed a woman publicly stoned to death.
He was taken to a "correctional camp" where he was forced to confess Islam and encouraged to marry, though he was now just 15 years old.
"Yes, I am embarrassed for having had to profess Islam," he told ACN.
"Daesh warriors made me pray. I received a prayer rug on which I could call upon Allah. Men were obligated to pray in the mosque on Friday. Anyone who would walk on the streets during the Friday prayer would be beaten. In the mosque, we were told that Assyrians were evil and that Christians did not believe in the right way. My mother should have to pray at home but she did not pray to Allah.
"Then the Daesh warriors found my necklace with a cross, a sign that I am a Christian. The Jihadists beat me and I had to study the Qur'an for a month. I was hit whenever I could not answer their questions the way they wanted me to, and my mother was stung with long needles because she had not studied anything from the Qur'an."
Ismail and his mother eventually managed to escape after being taken as hostages by ISIS militants when they fled Mosul, and are now living in Erbil where ACN is supporting refugees.
ISIS was driven out of Bartella in October last year but the village is not yet habitable because water and electricity facilities were destroyed by militants and some explosive devices left by the jihadis have yet to be defused.
However, church leaders have pledged to return and rebuild.
Executive director of Samaritan's Purse, Simon Barrington, recently visited Bartella and spoke to priests and nuns there. He told Christian Today: "I was amazed by their determination and commitment to the people of Barterlla and the surrounding region; of their commitment to be a continued witness in that area.
"There are huge risks for them in doing that, but they were very determined."