A group of young women who hid under their beds while Islamic State group fighters used their home to wait out an attack from Iraqi soldiers said the Virgin Mary kept them safe during the harrowing encounter. The women said it was a miracle the ISIS militants didn't catch them

“The Virgin Mary was with them,” the Rev. Roni Momika, a volunteer in refugee camps in northern Iraq, told Catholic News Agency Sunday. He said he spoke with the girls over the phone while they sought shelter. They detailed how they hid Friday from the militants also known as ISIS for eight hours until they were able to escape. 

“ISIS entered the house of our students, the girls,” the priest said. The women crawled under the beds as the ISIS fighters, some of them bloody from the conflict with the Iraqi military, ate and treated their wounds.

 “When ISIS was attacked by our army (the Iraqi Army) there were two people from ISIS injured, and ISIS put them here on these beds...and under the beds were the girls,” he described. One of the girls reportedly told him that “when ISIS entered our room, they didn’t see us (and) we feel that the Virgin Mary closed their eyes from seeing us.”

Momika said he urged the women to “pray to the Virgin Mary, she will come to help you.” “ISIS didn’t see them,” Momika said.

The women, students at the University of Kirkuk, moved to the Erbil in 2014 after fleeing ISIS fighters in the nearby cities of Bartella, Alqosh and Telskuf. They lived in refugee camps before the Catholic Church provided them housing so they could more easily attend school. 

At least 80 people were killed in the northern city of Kirkuk during the showdown between ISIS fighters and the Iraqi army over the weekend. The militants had sought to distract the Iraqi army as it marched toward Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, about 100 miles away. ISIS conquered Mosul in 2014, and the Iraqi army and a U.S.-led coalition launched a campaign this month to take back the city. 

Terror groups such as ISIS have increasingly targeted Christian communities in Iraq and across the Middle East in recent years, raising an outcry from critics who say Christians could soon be forced from the region altogether.

“How much longer can we flee before we and other minorities become a story in a history book?’’ Nuri Kino, a journalist and founder of the advocacy group Demand for Action, told the New York Times last year.