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ICC Note: When ISIS overran the plains of Nineveh in 2014, some 100+ Christians were missing from the escaped villagers of surrounding towns. Now, as many of these towns have been liberated, we are seeing handfuls of these Christian survivors emerge with grave stories to tell of the two year occupation. Matti and his elderly mother were among those who were trapped inside the caliphate. Both have endured great suffering at the hands of ISIS. This is their story.

11/29/2016 Iraq (CSM): When Christians fled the small town of Bartalla in August 2014 as Islamic State militants swept toward them, then-14-year-old Ibrahim Matti and his elderly mother stayed behind. Without a car, they waited on a relative who promised to return for them after ferrying his own family to safety.

But by then, it was too late. Matti and his mother, Jandark Nasi, both Assyrian Christians, spent more than two years living under IS control in and around Mosul. They endured physical violence, constant threats and intimidation, and forced conversion before finally escaping as the Iraqi Army pushed into Mosul in recent weeks.

They are among just a handful of Christians who have so far emerged from territory controlled by the self-declared Islamic State amid the Iraqi offensive that has retaken parts of northern Iraq. The historic heartland of Assyrian Christians in Iraq was part of the territory seized by the militants in 2014, and nearly all fled in the face of IS requirements: convert, pay a tax, or die. The ordeal of Matti and Ms. Nasi offers a glimpse of what life was like for those unable to escape.

Father Ammar Siman, priest of the St. George Syriac Catholic church in Bartalla, around 14 miles east of Mosul, says around 100 Christians were missing from the Christian villages around Mosul after August 2014. The relatives of many of the missing fear they did not survive.

Fr. Siman fled to Erbil in 2014, and while he has been back to see the church, he says no one has moved back to the town yet.

“We are very happy to receive them alive,” he says of those who had recently managed to escape. “Of course they need too much help. They’ve suffered a lot.

Three days after IS took Bartalla, Matti and his mother also tried to flee to Erbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region where many Christians had taken refuge. But militants stopped them at a checkpoint and sent them to a detention center in Mosul, and then to one in Bartalla. The prison was full of other Christians and Shiites, all of whom were being beaten, he says. There, militants told the teenager he must convert to Islam, urging him to say the Islamic profession of faith.

“I said there is no God but Jesus,” he recalled recently.

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