Published: 07:01 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 08 December 2011
Death threats against Christian owners of torched shops in Iraqi Kurdistan
Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iraq
Death threats have been issued against the Christian owners of shops that were torched by Islamists in an outbreak of violent attacks in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The violence erupted in the city of Zakho after Friday prayers on 2 December. Hundreds of Muslims, apparently incited by the imam’s vitriolic sermon, headed straight from a local mosque to businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group; they set ablaze 20 shops, three hotels, a massage parlour and a hair salon. At least 30 people were injured, and several million dollars’ worth of damage was caused.
The Muslim mob swelled to more than 3,000 and moved on to attack Christian property in the city of Dohuk, the town of Sumaili and village of Shiuz.
The attackers were chanting “Allahu Akhbar” (“god is great”) and abusing Christians, while some were randomly firing shots.
They reportedly torched one man’s restaurant, shop and cafeteria before moving on to his apartment, which they set ablaze with his children inside.
The following morning, more than 100 people, mainly youths, threw stones at a church and homes belonging to Christians in Almansoria.
On Monday (5 December), leaflets were put on the walls of the burned shops threatening the owners with death if they reopened them.
A Barnabas Fund partner with whom we have worked on projects in Iraq said:
[Kurdistan] is, in most part, a safe and secure and all inhabitants enjoy prosperity and security, until now at least! The future is, by all means, bleak to the Christians and other minorities living there.
Some local sources have blamed the Islamic Union of Kurdistan for the attacks, which are believed to have been pre-planned, though the group has denied responsibility.
Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said on Saturday (3 December):
Unfortunately, on Friday some mullahs and a group of youth committed unlawful acts and caused instability in Zakho. They attacked some tourist locations especially those of Christians and Yezidis and it seems the attacks had been pre-planned.
Mr Barzani said instability in the Kurdistan region was unacceptable and that a special committee will investigate Friday's incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have moved to Kurdistan to escape anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country. They have generally been welcomed and safe there, but this latest incident indicates that the area may no longer be a refuge for them.