Iraqi fam­ily’s search for ‘Lost Girl’ taken by IS

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

In a camp near Mo­sul a pic­ture of a three-year-old girl, snatched from her mother’s breast by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants when they over­ran her Chris­tian town two years ago, is taped to a wall along with a des­per­ate plea from her par­ents. “Lost Girl”, reads the poster in the dis­placed peo­ple’s camp, urg­ing any­one with in­for­ma­tion about Christina Ezzo Abada to call the num­ber pro­vided.

Al­most noth­ing is known about what hap­pened to Christina since her ab­duc­tion, but her fam­ily as­sumes she was taken to Mo­sul and is pray­ing she will be found among the tens of thou­sands of peo­ple now flee­ing the city. In the cramped cabin where they live, her par­ents keep vigil around the tele­vi­sion, tuned to a chan­nel track­ing the progress of Iraqi se­cu­rity forces as they fight to re­cap­ture the city from Is­lamic State. A pic­ture of Christina hangs on the wall next to an im­age of Je­sus.

“We hope she’s alive,” said her mother, Aida Nuh, the dark cir­cles around her eyes giv­ing her a haunted ex­pres­sion. “Maybe some­one will bring her and look for us and make con­tact. God knows”. Christina’s case is un­usual. Although Is­lamic State is known for its bru­tal­ity and has kid­napped thou­sands of men, women and chil­dren from Iraq’s Yazidi mi­nor­ity, Chris­tians faced a dif­fer­ent ultimatum un­der the mil­i­tants’ rule­pay a spe­cial tax for pro­tec­tion, con­vert to Is­lam, or die by the sword.

Most fled, but around 30 re­mained in the Chris­tian town of Qaraqosh, about 15 km south­east of Mo­sul, in­clud­ing Nuh and her hus­band, along with Christina, their youngest daugh­ter. It is a de­ci­sion they have lived to re­gret, but at the time it was un­clear how the mil­i­tants would treat them, and Nuh said she ex­pected Iraqi se­cu­rity forces to re­gain con­trol in a matter of days. Nev­er­the­less, they sent their four el­der chil­dren to safety in the nearby Kur­dish re­gion as a pre­cau­tion.

Twenty days went by in Qaraqosh with Christina and her par­ents holed up at home, fear­ful of the black-clad mil­i­tants, who came to them de­mand­ing they con­vert to Is­lam, but also pro­vided food and wa­ter when asked. On Aug 22, 2014, the mil­i­tants in­structed all re­main­ing Chris­tians to gather at a lo­cal hospi­tal for med­i­cal tests, and Nuh and her hus­band obeyed. But there were no tests, and af­ter a short in­ter­val the mil­i­tants or­dered them onto a minibus wait­ing out­side, which had been smeared with mud to prevent pas­sen­gers look­ing out or any­one see­ing in.

The mil­i­tants, whom Nuh iden­ti­fied as lo­cal Arabs, searched the group of around 30 Chris­tians for valu­ables, which they took, and sep­a­rated four mem­bers of the group be­fore corralling the rest onto the bus. Nuh sat with Christina on her lap and was breast-feed­ing her when one of the mil­i­tants came up and wrenched the girl away.

“Who will look af­ter her? She needs me,” pleaded Nuh, trail­ing the man as he got off the bus with her daugh­ter. He said he was fol­low­ing or­ders from his emir, or com­man­der, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the hospi­tal, bar­ring her way. She con­tin­ued to beg, and even­tu­ally the emir emerged from the hospi­tal car­ry­ing Christina, who was cry­ing. “I told him to give her back to me,” re­called Nuh. “He didn’t speak. With his eyes he mo­tioned at me to get back on the bus.”

When she re­sisted, the mil­i­tants first threat­ened and then forced her onto the bus, which drove to a waste­land on the edge of Is­lamic State ter­ri­tory and dumped the en­tire group there. That was the last time Nuh saw her daugh­ter. In the days af­ter she was taken, Christina’s par­ents called­lo­cal Arabs with links to Is­lamic State who told them she had been placed with a fam­ily and was in safe hands. But then con­tact was lost. Fur­ther ef­forts to track the girl down have yielded noth­ing, although some spec­u­late she ended up in an Is­lamic State or­phan­age. It is not clear why the mil­i­tants kid­napped Christina, who would now be five-years-old.

Ear­lier this week, the fam­ily re­turned to Qaraqosh for the first time since leav­ing more than two years ago. On the way there, the car stopped and Christina’s father, who is blind, got out and heard the voice of a young girl. “I heard ‘papa! papa!’,” he said. “I called ‘Christina! Christina!’, but she didn’t re­ply”. — Reuters

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