Iraqi Christians return to ISIS-ravaged ghost town

Published 9:04 AM ET, Mon April 3, 2017
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Christian residents of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, return for mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception after the city was liberated from ISIS in October 2016. Many churches, houses and shops were destroyed and looted by ISIS during the terror group's two-and-a-half year occupation. Qaraqosh was the the largest predominately Christian city in Iraq. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Some residents of Qaraqosh returned briefly to bid farewell to 83-year old Nasira, a nun who fled Qaraqosh and died in nearby Irbil. All Qaraqosh residents fled in the summer of 2014 to escape ISIS's reign of terror. Only a handful have returned, and many remain refugees in nearby cities and towns and in neighboring countries. Kareem Khadder/CNN
A Christian woman of Qaraqosh cries next to the tomb where Nasira was laid to rest. Kareem Khadder/CNN
This street in one of Qaraqosh residential and commercial areas shows no sign of life. Qaraqosh remains a ghost town, with no running water or electricity. Only a handful of families have returned since its liberation in October 2016. Kareem Khadder/CNN
This toppled bell tower once stood atop the St. Behnam and St. Sarah Monastery. ISIS blew up church towers, destroyed and smashed crosses and defaced religious statues in Qaraqosh. The city had a population of 60,000, most of them Christians, before ISIS's occupation in the summer of 2014. Kareem Khadder/CNN
The Church of the Immaculate Conception was set on fire by ISIS, which turned its courtyards into a practice firing range. But priests held services in the church within weeks after the city was recaptured from ISIS. Kareem Khadder/CNN
A Muslim woman attends mass at the church in a sign of solidarity with Qaraqosh's Christian population. Muslims were a small minority in Qaraqosh, and Muslims and Christians alike suffered from the atrocities committed by ISIS during the occupation. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Yacoub Hanna, 76, at a mass held at the church. He said he was shocked to see what ISIS did to his city. "I felt pain," he said. "My eyes filled with tears." Kareem Khadder/CNN
Women pray during a mass held at the church. Many Qaraqosh residents return to the city during the day to take part in church services and check on their properties. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Youhanna Boutros Mouche, Syrian-Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, leads a mass at the charred Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh. "When I returned to the church, I was overwhelmed. I fell to the ground and kissed the steps," he said. "Arson for us is a message, a threatening message, that the idea of ISIS is still here in this region, and that's what we fear." Kareem Khadder/CNN
A destroyed statue of Christ at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Mannequins and spray-painted human targets riddled with bullet holes fill the courtyard of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh. During its occupation ISIS turned the church into a firing range and burned its Bibles. Kareem Khadder/CNN