By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
MOSUL, IRAQ (BosNewsLife) -- A Christian music store owner was shot and killed in Mosul, Iraqi police said Monday, October 13, the latest in a series of killings that has caused thousands of Christians to flee the northern city in recent days, BosNewsLife monitored.
Gunmen reportedly stormed into the businessman's store late Sunday, in an eastern part of the city, killing him and wounding his teenage nephew, police said. His name was not immediately revealed, apparently for security reasons.
It came as some 1,000 police began deploying in Christian areas of Mosul, in a government attempt to halt the exodus of members of the religious minority. At least 3,000 Christians fled the city in the last week, as violence spiralled out of control, said the governor of Nineveh province, which includes Mosul.
At least a dozen Christians are believed to have been killed by suspected Muslim militants this month. Most of them were shot and killed, an international aid and advocacy group told BosNewsLife Monday, October 13.
Some seven Christians "were killed execution-style by gunmen," between October 4 and October 8, said Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in mainly Muslim nations, including Iraq.
Barnabas Fund said other estimates suggest the number of Christians killed "is as high as 25 or even 40," but officials did not confirm these figures. Among Christians killed were also a were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person, BosNewsLife reported earlier Monday, October 13, citing local sources.
"Christian houses have been blown up, and at least 744 Christian families, have left their homes to find refuge with relatives or in churches and Christian centers in seven towns and villages to the north and east of Mosul," Barnabas Fund added.
"Some are sleeping in their cars. They are in desperate need of food, clothes, bedding, items for personal hygiene and other basic necessities." Leaflets have reportedly been distributed in Mosul, threatening Christians with death unless they convert to Islam or pay Islamic tax.
"The leaflets, which are an effective tactic used before in Baghdad and elsewhere, have been condemned by the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq. One source reports that last Thursday, October 9, extremists drove around the Mosul neighbourhood of Sukkar, shouting through a loudspeaker that Christians would be attacked unless they left the city,â€ Barnabas Fund added.
Northern Iraq is seen as the historic center of Christianity in Iraq. Many Christians from the capital Baghdad and Basra fled to the north for safety in recent years, including to Mosul, where some 50,000 Christians live, according Barnabas Fund estimated
"It is believed that the extremists behind the campaign are linked to the al-Qaeda [terror network]," Barnabas Fund explained. The attacks came after the Christian community also complained about legislation agreed by parliament last month which removed a previously guaranteed number of seats for minorities, including Christians, in regional councils.
"The situation in Iraq is extremely grave. Sunni Muslim extremists are moving north, now that they have successfully managed to intimidate and drive out most of the Christians from the cities of Basra in the south and Baghdad in the centre of Iraq,â€ commented Barnabas Fund International Director Patrick Sookhdeo. He said his group had appealed to the the Iraqi government and US army to intervene.
United Nations Special Representative Staffan de Mistura shared his concern. The official said the â€œspike in violence that has targeted the Christian communities in recent days" was carried out by those t seeking to "fuel tensions and exacerbate instability at a critical time."
Islamic extremists have frequently targeted Christians since the 2003 US invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee the country. There was hope among churches that a drastic decline in overall violence nationwide could improve the situation for Christians, but concerns are rising following the deaths this month in Mosul.
Elsewhere in Iraq on Monday, October 13, Iraqi police and witnesses said clashes broke out briefly in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City after a roadside bomb targeted a US patrol. The United States military did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press (AP) news agency.
No serious casualties were reported, but the fighting reflected rising tensions amid US-Iraqi negotiations over a security deal that would extend the presence of American forces in Iraq beyond the end of the year, AP said.
Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the 4,100 British troops in southern Iraq are no longer necessary to provide security, although some might be needed for training and technical issues, a newspaper reported Monday. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had promised a major troop withdrawal in the early months of 2009, but Britain's military has said it's premature to discuss specific figures, AP recalled.
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