Iraqi nuns, orphans kidnapped in June released safely

Two Iraqi nuns and three orphans kidnapped in late June have been released safely, according to the Christian rights group Middle East Concern.

The group, citing Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, said the five were released July 14 without anyone paying ransom. They are reported to be in good physical health. They also said they were treated well during their abduction.

There has been no official statement on who kidnapped the nuns and orphans in Mosul, an area of Iraq that was overrun in June by Islamist militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The extremist group has taken over vast swathes of territory across five Iraqi provinces north and west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

The kidnapped Chaldean Daughters of Mary, Sr. Miskintah and Sr. Utoor, and three orphans disappeared June 28. They went missing around the time the militants shelled Christian villages outside of Mosul, including Qaraqosh, forcing more than 40,000 Christians to flee, many with just the clothes on their backs. The majority of Qaraqosh's 40,000 inhabitants are Syriac Catholics.

The nuns live and work in an orphanage attached to the Chaldean monastery in Mosul. The orphans were identified as Hala Salim, Sarah Khoshaba, and Aram Sabah.

Patriarch Sako and other church leaders continue to express concern for the future of Iraq's Christian communities. Other non-Sunni Muslim Arab communities in areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also have expressed fear for their future.

Middle East Concern said it has received reports in recent days of "atrocities against Yazidi communities, the appropriation of land belonging to Christians and members of other minority communities, and the further removal of statues and religious symbols."

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants reportedly have occupied both Mosul's Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox cathedrals, removing the crosses at the front of the buildings and replacing them with the Islamic state's black flag.

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