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Iraqi priests celebrate Mass in church liberated from ISIS

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter looks at Islamic State positions during heavy fighting in Bashiqa, east of Mosul, on Tuesday (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Priests have celebrated Mass in the town of Bashiqa for the first time in two years after Iraqi forces liberated it from ISIS.

The Mass was held on Wednesday at the Mart Shoomy Assyrian church, which remains severely damaged after being ransacked by militants during the ISIS campaign. Photographs show the priests flanked by Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

Bashiqa was retaken as part of the offensive to capture Mosul, situated 13km from the town.

“We are so happy at the liberation,” said Fr Elkhoury Alfaran Elkhoury.

“They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death,” he said, pointing to the damage jihadis had inflicted on the church while occupying the area.

Other Masses have been held for the first time since ISIS’s invasion in the newly liberated towns of Qaraqosh and Bartella.

Fr Bools Mate Afram, an Orthodox priest in Bashiqa, told the Guardian last month that although he planned to return to Mosul if it was freed from the threat of ISIS, he feared that many would not.

“Many Christians say that under no conditions will they return to Mosul city itself because the chances that it will be a secure and safe city, even after Daesh is gone, are very weak,” he said.

“I know many families who want to go back but they need international protection to be able to live in Nineveh plains again,” he said.