A group of Christians in Iraq celebrated mass Sunday in a church near Mosul for the first time in about two years, Reuters reported. The occasion was largely seen as an indication the area was free of the Islamic State group's longstanding rule there as Iraqi forces were fighting to rid the country of the terror group.
The services at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the Assyrian city of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq was lauded as such by religious leaders there.
"Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh (Islamic State)," said Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe. "Our role today is to remove all the remnants of Daesh. ... This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimized us."
Christians in Iraq have been targeted by the Muslim global terror group more commonly referred to as ISIS. Tens of thousands of Christians in Iraq have chosen to flee the Middle East because of ISIS terrorism that has been called religious genocide. Instances range from rape and enslavement of Christians to the kidnapping of 12 nuns in 2013.
There were more than 1 million Christians in Iraq as of 2003, the Guardian reported. That number has since dwindled to about 300,000.
The crisis prompted the European Parliament to pass a resolution to protect religious minorities in Iraq once ISIS has been driven out of the country, Christina Daily reported.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception is Iraq's largest church that prior to ISIS' presence in the country routinely turned out upwards of 3,000 weekly for services, the Daily Beast reported. The structure had been burned and nearly destroyed since Islamic State fighters first captured the town.
Qaraqosh, where the church is located, was previously where as many as 25 percent of the country's Christians called home. The city was freed from ISIS' controls in recent weeks amid the ongoing battle for Iraq to retake Mosul from the militant group.
Iraqi military forces were closing in on Mosul after having conquered the final village before getting to the strategic city, according to the BBC. It has been reported that as a result of the anti-ISIS offensive in Iraq, the terror group has been looking to expand in Africa, especially in the continent's northern countries of Libya, Somalia and Egypt.