ISIS seizes Iraq’s largest Christian town

A cleric and witnesses said ISIS jihadist group is now in control of Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh

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Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, was seized by jihadist militants when Kurdish troops withdrew overnight, fleeing residents and clerics told Agence France-Presse Thursday.

“I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Joseph Thomas, the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP.

Several residents contacted by AFP confirmed that the entire area in northern Iraq, home to a large part of the country’s Christian community, had fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group.

The towns were shelled in the past few days by ISIS militants.

Some of them are less than 50 kilometers away from Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

The towns are among many in the area where thousands of Christians who were forced to abandon their homes in the main northern city of Mosul last month had found refuge.

Following the advances of ISIS fighters, the U.N. Security Council said it will hold an emergency meeting on Iraq, AFP reported.

The talks are scheduled to begin at 2130 GMT, a diplomatic source said.

The meeting was requested by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier on Thursday.

Fabius asked the international community to mobilize itself against the threat and bring help.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande pledged his country’s “support” to forces battling ISIS in Iraq amid growing Western concern over an advance by the Sunni fighters.

“The president confirmed that France was available to support forces engaged in this battle,” Hollande’s office said in a statement, after the French leader spoke about Iraq by telephone with the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani.

Also on Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama is considering airstrikes and emergency relief airdrops to help 40,000 members of religious minorities in Iraq, who are trapped on a mountaintop after threats by ISIS militants, the New York Times reported, according to Reuters.

Obama has been looking at a range of options, from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on fighters from ISIS who are at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official told the newspaper.

(With AFP, AP and Reuters)

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