01/12/2010, 00.00
IRAQ

Mosul: Christian merchant killed as "ethnic cleansing" continues

A 75-year-old greengrocer is shot dead in front of his house. The abduction of a Christian female student is still shrouded in mystery. A wave of violence that includes attacks against churches, abductions and targeted killings of Christians is trying to force them into a mass exodus.
Mosul (AsiaNews) – Mosul's Christian community has been the victim of another targeted killing. Hikmat Sleiman, a 75-year-old greengrocer, was killed yesterday. His death follows a wave of violence against Iraqi Christians that included a number of attacks over the past few weeks against churches and convents as well as abductions and execution-style murders. Local bishops have slammed the trend, calling it a plan of "ethnic cleansing" at Christians' expense.

The store owner "was assassinated in front of his house," sources in Mosul told AsiaNews. “Hikmat Sleiman, 75, owned a small greengrocery across from the Dominican convent in Sa'a neighbourhood, said the source who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons.

"After closing his store, he went home. A group of criminals was waiting for him and opened fire," he added. The victim died instantly.

Yesterday's murder is further evidence that Iraqi Christians are the victims of a plan of "ethnic cleansing" designed to force them to leave the country. The central government and the local governatorate are powerless against such attacks as the various ethnic groups, Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen as well as extremist cells, blame each other.

On 23 December of last year, the Church of Saint George of the Chaldeans and the Syro-Orthodox Church of Saint Thomas were hit in separate attacks. Three people were killed in the first attack. On Christmas Eve, a man was killed in front of his house, whilst on 31 December an Islamic group abducted a Christian female student whose fate is still unknown. Two days later, on 2 January, a local Christian man was also abducted.

Back in December, four churches and the convent of the Dominican nuns were attacked in Mosul. The explosions caused by car bombs and other explosive devices caused major damage to the surrounding buildings and homes. Many homes belonging to Christians as well as Muslims were destroyed.

After the attacks, a Christian source in the city sounded the alarm, saying "the community is destined to day". Indeed in Mosul, many believe that the attacks are mafia-style "warnings" designed to provoke a mass exodus of the community.

"Families fled north, in Kurdistan, where they have no work or life prospects. The Christian community is destined to die," the source said.

Since 2003, the year when Saddam Hussein fell, at least 1,960 Christians have been killed in Iraq. The community has been cut by half as Christians fled for safer areas inside the country (Kurdistan) or abroad. (DS)

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