Last weekend, seven female Christian students were rescued after being trapped by Islamic State fighters for several hours, in a surprise attack on Kirkuk, Southeast of Mosul.
“Suddenly their street was filled with Islamic State warriors shouting ‘Alahu Akbar,’” Father Ammar shared. “Most students were able to leave their houses in time, but seven girls couldn’t escape.”
Ammar is the girls’ church leader who lives in Erbil, where many other displaced Christians have fled.
Kirkuk has been under the protection of Kurdish forces for over two years. It was deemed safe enough to send displaced Christians, like these girls from Erbil, to study at Kirkuk University. They lived in houses rented by their church.
Between 21 October and 24 October 2016, Islamic State launched a surprise attack in Kirkuk to divert military from the battle for Mosul. While 50 women and eight nuns were able to flee from their houses, the seven girls were trapped and hid under a pile of blankets in their dorm room.
“They texted me in the evening, they were terrified: ‘We are in danger. Please come for us.’ At least four Islamic State soldiers had entered their house. The girls had gone to their bedroom and were hiding under the beds, covered in blankets.” Father Ammar said, “…they were hiding under their beds, undiscovered by Islamic State. At some moment the Islamic State warriors even entered the bedroom to pray and take care of one of their soldiers who’d gotten hurt.”
After the girls notified Ammar in Erbil, he set the wheels in motion to save them. Reaching out to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to ask they rescue the girls, he also had the local church praying.
While the rescue attempt was planned, Ammar continued exchanging texts messages with them. “Luckily the electricity was cut off, so it was dark in the room. Nevertheless it was a miracle the girls weren’t discovered.”
After seven hours Iraqi soldiers managed to rescue the girls who were then taken to safety. Arriving in Erbil a few hours later, they were greeted with cheers by other Christians.
The battle to expel the self-proclaimed Islamic State from Iraq may have begun, but Christians still fear Islamic State attacks, even in cities and villages deemed safe. The attack on Kirkuk was an attempt by the group to divert Iraqi forces from the main battle for Mosul.
The incident shows that even in areas not controlled by Islamic State, Christians are still vulnerable. Perhaps even more so now, as Islamic State is cornered by Iraqi, Kurdish and international forces. Sleeper cells may pop-up elsewhere in Iraq in efforts to destabilise the country.
But as Ammar says, “It’s a miracle. A true miracle. We prayed a lot and God answered our prayers. In the end none of the students or nuns were injured. Praise God for that.”
Pray that the church in Iraq would continue holding fast to Jesus, seeking to know Him more. Pray they would be lights for Christ in the midst of the darkness. Pray that Islamic State fighters would have a revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord and turn to Him!