Two Years Of Fear: Christian Widow Survives Isis

Two Years Of Fear: Christian Widow Survives Isis

An elderly Christian widow who survived two years of Islamic State (ISIS) rule over her northern Iraqi town said the jihadists threatened to kill her, forced her to spit on a crucifix and made her stamp on an image of the Virgin Mary.

Zarifa Badoos Daddo, 77, was reunited with her family on Sunday (October 30) after Iraqi forces drove ISIS from Qaraqosh as they advanced on Mosul.

The forces found her sheltering in a house they thought was abandoned or booby-trapped with explosives.

Most residents of Qaraqosh - Iraq's largest Christian town - had fled towards the country's autonomous Kurdish region more than two years ago as the militants approached, but Daddo stayed on with another elderly woman.

Her relatives had long feared she was dead.

ISIS singled out religious minorities in northern Iraq, including Christians and Yazidis, for murder and eviction after declaring a caliphate in 2014 over territory they captured there and in neighboring Syria. Their seizure of Mosul and surrounding towns effectively drove Christians from the area for the first time in two millennia.

Daddo, who is hard of hearing, told Reuters on Sunday that the militants had not physically hurt her, but had intimidated and robbed her, made her desecrate her religion and tried to force her to convert to Islam.

"They told me to spit on the crucifix. I was crying inside but I couldn't show it," she said at a relative's home in the Kurdish capital Erbil, an hour's drive from Qaraqosh.

Then the jihadists demanded she stamp on an image of the Virgin Mary that she kept at home.

Daddo's husband had died in 2014. She was reunited with her brother and other relatives in Erbil on Sunday.

Her jubilant family slaughtered a lamb to celebrate what they consider the miracle of her survival.

Relatives wept and applauded as she recounted her most harrowing encounters. She spoke in a mix of Arabic and Syriac, an ancient dialect of the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke.

Her niece said the family had lost touch with her about 18 months ago when ISIS clamped down on telephones in areas under their control.

Most of Iraq's Christian population is based in the north, around Mosul, which is one of the world's oldest centers of Christianity, dating back to the first century AD.

A quarter of a century ago, there were more than a million Christians in Iraq but their numbers dwindled during the 1990s as the country faced war and sanctions. The exodus accelerated after attacks on Christians in the sectarian violence following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Qaraqosh, about 20 km (13 miles) southeast of Mosul, was a Christian town of about 45,000 people before ISIS swept across the region.

Daddo was sleeping in her garden when the jihadists entered the town and issued an ultimatum: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.

She said she too had wanted to leave the town, but eventually lost hope.

ISIS provided her with enough food to survive, she said, but they also made surprise visits to the house which left her terrified.

"We were two women living by ourselves. They would come at night, sometimes they would come at four in the morning, so we were scared," said Daddo.

The militants took all the valuables from her house. When she assured them there was nothing left for them to take, they threatened her.

ISIS repeatedly tried to convert Daddo to Islam. At first, she argued but eventually yielded.

ISIS was driven out of Qaraqosh nine days ago. On Sunday, in a charred church, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul celebrated mass in the town for the first time since its recapture.