Church bells rang out over Bartella, Iraq, for the first time in over two years Friday as Iraqi soldiers celebrated their victory over ISIS, CBN News reports.

Bartella was previously called home by thousands of Assyrians Christians. ISIS took control of the town in August 2014 and since then, it has been a ghost town. According to The Sun, most residents sought refuge to the Kurdish region after ISIS threatened the Christians to pay a tax for being Christians, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.

Iraqi troops stormed through Bartella and killed more than 80 ISIS fighters, as soldiers push west towards Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in the country. 

Militants vandalized religious sites of minority communities, including Saint Matthew’s Church. They removed crosses from the steeple, defaced statues and scrawled their black jihadist flag on a wall.

“This ancient church which was desecrated by the terrorists has today been liberated,” Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, Iraqi Commander of Joint Operation Command.

A cautious calm reigned over town after its liberation from ISIS. It will be some time before people can return to the town. Bullet casings, deactivated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), shrapnel from car bombs and roadside blasts still litter the roads in Bartella.

“Bartella is now safe and secured. It is under our complete control,” said the battle’s commander Major General Maan Saadi.

Sources:

Cbncom. (2016). CBNcom (beta). http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2016/october/ringing-of-church-bells-marks-freedom-for-christian-iraqi-town

Reuters. (2016). Reuters.com. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-bartella-idUSKCN12L2HU

Thesuncouk. (2016). The Sun. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2027132/bells-in-syrian-christian-church-that-fell-silent-under-isis-once-again-chime-out/

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