Iraqis fortunate enough to have survived the wrath of the Islamic State in northern Iraq as the terrorist group took control of Mosul and its surrounding areas have begun to tell their stories. Children, mothers, husbands, and clergy lost all in their flight to freedom.
Speaking to Mashable, a number of survivors who fled from Mosul and the previously Christian city of Qaraqosh–sometimes from one to the other before having to flee once again–detail the abuses and destruction ISIS has left in their paths. A nun, Sister Luma of the Dominican order, says that she was one of many who were forced to flee twice–once out of Mosul to Qaraqosh, and then out of Qaraqosh to Kurdish-controlled territory. “We had only one choice: face death or leave.”
Others could not flee and merely survived. 17-year-old Khidir was forced to watch the men in his family executed as the Islamic State killed dozens by firing squad. He miraculously avoided the bullet aimed for his head and played dead until all the men in this round of executions were presumed dead and abandoned. He and one other man survived, and the two walked to a Kurdish region for safety. “Everyone is dead,” he says. “There is no village.”
In addition to written stories, survivors have been speaking out on camera. Human Rights Watch recently released a report examining the details of a massacre near Mosul, where the Islamic State is said to have killed more than 600 men. The imprisoned men were divided by religion and shot as a group. Among the survivors, there quickly surfaces a united thread to their stories: they did not try to flee. Like Khidir, they played dead. “They shot the head of anyone who was moving or breathing,” explains one survivor, while another notes that many, out of fear, tried to run away and were deliberately targeted and shot.
The Islamic State took over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in July. In the process, they destroyed priceless ancient Christian sites, massacred hundreds (if not thousands), and forced thousands more to flee. A site believed to have housed the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah was destroyed. It is believed that ISIS has either occupied or destroyed every single Christian institution in Mosul, and no Christian remains in the city, save the elderly who could not flee to safety and were forced to convert to Islam.