BY CAROL GLATZ
SOME CHRISTIANS in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have become the victims of extortion as unknown terrorist groups threaten to kill them or kidnap family members if they do not pay large sums of cash, two Iraqi priests have said.
One 43-year-old Christian man, married with three children, “was killed last week because he didn’t pay,” said Dominican Fr Mekhail Nageeb of Nineveh, near Mosul.
After a group of unidentified men went to the man’s workplace to extract money from him “he tried not to pay and he ran out, so they killed him,” said the Iraqi-born priest, who is the Dominicans’ superior in Mosul.
Fr Nageeb said he knows about “more than 10 or 15 people” in Mosul who have been forced to pay exorbitant sums of money to anonymous groups who have threatened to kill the victim or abduct family members.
The amount of money terrorists demand from an individual can run anywhere from £50,000 to £75,000, he said, forcing many to sell their homes, furnishings, properties or beg relatives or neighbours for cash. Others, he said, simply flee Iraq for a brief period in the hopes of escaping the threats.
“It’s a really catastrophic problem now,” he said.
Chaldean Fr Sabah Patto said that Christians are sometimes told they are paying a “protection tax”.
He said the terrorists tell them: “We are protecting you, so you have to pay us.” Fr Patto, who was born in the northern Iraqi town of Zakho, has been responsible for the Chaldean community in Germany since 2002. Though he is based in Munich he said he often hears news about what is happening to the Chaldean and other Christian communities in Iraq. He said some Muslim religious leaders in Mosul were telling people to not buy homes or property from Christians “because they will become free [at no cost] for people” after the Christian owners are forced to flee the area.
Muslim elements “are encouraging the Christians to leave their country and to leave their properties and everything, and nobody is buying from them,” Fr Patto said, adding that some fundamentalist groups claim that an act of violence against a non-Muslim was “not a sin or there is no problem in it because the unbeliever is wrong”.