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IS Commandeers Agency Photos To Claim Mosul Church Under 'Islamic Protection'

An AFP photo of Iraqi security staff guarding a church in Bartala, which IS supporters have used to claim the militant group is protecting Christian churches in the city of Mosul.

An AFP photo of Iraqi security staff guarding a church in Bartala, which IS supporters have used to claim the militant group is protecting Christian churches in the city of Mosul.

An announcement by supporters of the Islamic State (IS) group has claimed that a church in Mosul is "under Islamic State protection."

The announcement was posted on the JustPasteIt website on October 28, and claims to show photographs of IS gunmen outside the "Mosul church."

The photographs "show how the Islamic Caliphate [IS] police protect Christian churches and Christians to the Islamic State pay taxes," the announcement states.

There is a problem with that claim, however: the photographs to which it refers do not show a church in Mosul. The photographs were taken by the AFP news agency in June and show the Church of the Virgin Mary in the northern Iraqi town of Bartala, east of Mosul.

The armed men photographed outside the church are not IS "police," but Iraqi security forces who remained in the town in June to guard the church against IS gunmen.

The claims by IS that Christian places of worship in Mosul are protected by the militant group, and that "Mosul is home to approximately 130,000 Christians who live a carefree thanks justice of Allah's law, which is administered by the Islamic State (Caliphate)," dramatically contradict fresh reports that Christians from the Iraqi city have fled IS and are seeking refuge in churches in Jordan.

One of the Mosul residents who fled to Jordan, Lubna, said that she "could not bear" living in Mosul under IS. The practice, abolished by the Ottomans in the 19th century, has been revived by IS militants in Raqqa, Syria -- and now in Iraq's Mosul.

Lubna said that IS forced non-Muslims to pay the "jizya tax," a head tax imposed on non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state, levied since the time of Muhammad.

"They threatened us, saying you have to either leave, be slaughtered, convert to Islam, or pay the jizya tax [on non-Muslims]," Lubna told Voice of America.

According to one report, IS militants in Mosul are using the Mosul Museum -- which until the extremist group took over the city had housed priceless Iraqi artifacts -- as its office to collect the jizya tax.

The IS announcement admitted that IS militants had forced Christians to pay the jizya tax, but insisted that this meant that non-Muslims received "protection."

Media claims that IS were harming Christians were part of a campaign to "Satanize Muslims," the announcement continues.

Mosul, once home to one of the world's oldest Christian communities, and with ancient churches dating back to the first centuries of Christianity, has seen its once 60,000 strong Christian population dramatically depleted since IS overran the town in June.

The exact extent of the destruction of the city's Christian heritage remains unknown. Yet reports indicate that IS gunmen have caused extensive damage to a number of Mosul's churches.

A video obtained by the Kurdish news agency Rudaw earlier this month claims to show the ruins of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Mosul, which IS leveled with explosives in July. Rudaw cited the reporter who claims to have filmed the video as saying that IS gunmen had sprayed graffiti on the church's walls, saying that "these places are destroyed under IS order."

IS has not only destroyed Christian holy sites, however. The extremist group has also targeted Shi'a Islamic mosques and shrines, as well as shrines dedicated to various saints, the veneration of which IS considers apostasy.

In July, the group published a video showing the destruction of the Nabi Younes (Prophet Jonah) mosque in Mosul.

WATCH: Destruction Of Mosul's Nabi Younes Mosque

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena