Christian leader Jacques Murad has been freed by Islamic State (IS) militants and led the first service since his release on Sunday (11 October). But a father and his twelve-year-old son were among twelve Syrian converts from Islam to Christianity who were captured on 7 August, then publicly slaughtered by beheading or crucifixion three weeks later by IS fighters in a village outside Aleppo, Syria, after they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus.
The 41-year-old father, his son (just two months away from celebrating his 13th birthday), and two other men were forced to stand before a crowd as IS militants ordered the believers to renounce Christianity and return to Islam.
When they said they would never deny Christ, the militants took the young boy and in front of his father and the others, they beat him and cut off his fingertips. The jihadists promised to stop if his father converted back to Islam. He refused, and all four were beaten, tortured and crucified until dead.
The militants put signs beside them that read “infidels”. “They were left on their crosses for two days,” said Christian Aid Mission. “No one was allowed to remove them.”
Another eight believers, including two women, were taken to a different site in the city on the same day. They too were ordered to renounce Christ and convert back to Islam, but refused to deny their Lord. In front of a crowd of spectators that the militants had summoned, the jihadists raped the two women and then beheaded all eight as they knelt, praying. Their bodies were then hung on crosses.
“Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord’s prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus,” said the leader of the Christian ministry for which each of the murdered adults was working. “One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!’”
Despite the danger of being kidnapped and targeted by IS jihadists, the eleven adults had chosen to remain so that they could share the gospel with those around them. For “apostates”, the sharia punishment is the death sentence, but last week IS militants also executed three Assyrian Christians taken captive at the end of February in north-eastern Syria.
In better news, the head of Mar Elian monastery in Syria’s captured Qaryatain town, Jacques Mourad, has been released. He was abducted by IS militants on 21 May. After the town was captured, “terrorists of Daesh [IS] destroyed the monastery completely,” said a local Christian. “They want to eliminate the Assyrian culture and history from the town.”
The Christian presence in the Middle East, which dates back 2,000 years, is disappearing rapidly as IS advance across the region, kidnapping, killing and expelling believers.
In Mosul, Iraq, it is thought that there are no Christians left after militants in July 2014 issued the city’s believers with an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the humiliating jizya head tax, or be killed. Those who fled have little hope of being able to return.
Militants have since seized or destroyed all churches and Christian properties and, according to International Christian Concern, several of the city’s churches were used to slaughter animals for the celebration of Eid al-Adha (an Islamic festival at which Muslims remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael).
One of the churches converted into a slaughterhouse is the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral Church of St Ephrem, which was turned into the “mosque of the mujahedeen” (jihad fighters). “This was my church from childhood,” said Rita, who escaped to northern Iraq. “In Christmas and Easter the church was full of people. This church is one of the biggest in Mosul; there would be thousands of people.”
Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul broke down and wept last year as he told Barnabas about the fate of his cathedral. The jihadist flag stating, “There is no God but Allah” and “Prophet Muhammad” was draped over the building and last July the militants took down the cross from the church’s dome.