Church Bells Ring Once Again In Christian Iraqi Town Freed From ISIS Occupation

Iraqi soldiers walk inside a church damaged by ISIS fighters in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq on Oct. 21, 2016.Reuters

After more than two years of silence, Christians in Iraq heard the sound of their faith and freedom as well.

On Saturday, church bells rang out over the Christian town of Bartella, Iraq, for the first time since August 2014 after Iraqi soldiers backed up by Kurdish troops liberated the town from Islamic State (ISIS) occupation, CBN News reported.

Iraqi military officials said Hamdaniya, another Christian town has also been liberated, according to the International Business Times (IBT). The town, which is also known as Qaraqosh, is about 20km southeast of the still ISIS-occupied city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces killed more than 80 ISIS fighters in Bartella and drove the rest from the town, which lies 14km from Mosul.

Bartella used to be the home of thousands of Assyrian Christians, many of whom fled the town when the ISIS took control.

The jihadist group gave Christians and other religious minorities in the town three choices: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die.

ISIS militants looted Christian homes and desecrated churches, even turning them into their training camps.

At Saint Matthew's Church, the militants removed crosses from the steeple, defaced statues and scrawled their black jihadist flag on a wall.

"This ancient church which was desecrated by the terrorists has today been liberated," Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, Iraqi Commander of Joint Operation Command, told reporters on the scene.

He said they are now clearing Bartella of explosives, mines and other obstructions.

Iraqi army Captain Mustapha Muhsen told the Telegraph that "the fight for Bartella had been harder than the others we have liberated."

He added that their forces had faced six suicide attackers and seven car bombs in the two-day fight to take the Bartella.

"Perhaps they did not want to give it up so easily because of its religious significance," Muhsen said.

Before leaving Bartella, ISIS militants shot dead 284 men and boys, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN, adding that the bodies were dumped in a mass grave at the disused College of Agriculture north of the city.

Fiercer and more protracted fighting is expected as an anti-ISIS coalition force of over 100,000 moves towards the city of Mosul, IBT reported.