Uncertain story: there was an explosion in the street outside an army base and a church in Mosul

One of the Foreign Policy bloggers (@FP_Bloggers), Christian Caryl (@ccaryl), reported: ‘No sooner had ISIS entered Mosul than some of their fighters set fire to an Armenian church.’

Further update (20th July 2014)

Abdul Malek (@truthsMaster) has found a video that shows the unburned church and a burned vehicle outside (which was probably the source of the fire in the propaganda photo).

Follow-up update (22nd June 2014)

According to an Armenian source in Kirkuk (where most of Mosul’s Armenians have gone), the Church of St. Etchmiadzin was not set on fire. According to them, there was a car bomb in the street outside. The source did not know the target of the car bomb, but it would correspond with the report of the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, who said that jihadists attacked the army base next to the church.

That explosion caused fire damage to the church, and possibly a fire in the church, but there are still no photographs of the church, despite ISIS’s desire to spread fear through threats (such as the proclamation of its rule to destroy all shrines) and violence.

Initial update (19th June 2014)

At the time of Caryl’s article and my post, the available information consisted of contradictory claims of damage and destruction, a denial of a fire in the church in a report that had been informed by a local bishop, and an absolute denial from the archbishop. So, I posted that ‘Foreign Policy have repeated a demonstrably false report of an ISIS attack on a church in Mosul’.

Subsequently, Artyom Tonoyan (@ArtyomTonoyan) said that he’d heard different from local Armenian residents. Obviously, this could be very important information, especially as it relates to the reliability of warnings in news and reassurances from community representatives. I will share reliable testimony as soon as possible.

[The rest of this post is the original post, so that readers can judge the sources for themselves.]

Was it an unnamed church or St. Etchmiadzin? Was it bombed or set on fire?

In Caryl’s source article, the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reported that ‘ISIS members bombed an Armenian church which was under construction in the Left Bank neighborhood, near al-Salaam hospital’; and its photograph of a church with a fire in frame was captioned, ‘St. Etchmiadzin Armenian church following attacks by ISIS’. Ankawa‘s local report confirmed that the Left Bank neighbourhood is al-Wehda/Alwahda and claimed that ‘militants blew up the church which is under construction’.

St. Etchmiadzin Armenian church following attacks by ISIS. (c) Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), 12th June 2014

St. Etchmiadzin Armenian church following attacks by ISIS.
(c) Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), 12th June 2014

So, the reports about St. Etchmiadzin and the unnamed “incomplete church building” that ‘was not destroyed on purpose but during fighting between Iraqi police and ISIS’ are reports about the same incident. (To be precise, the construction site was ‘next to an army base [that was] attacked by jihadists’.)

Yet the church wasn’t destroyed by accident (let alone on purpose); it wasn’t attacked; and even Rev. Fr. Masis Shahinyan, who was in Dohuk and heard that it had been attacked, stated that the fire was outside, so the church was not even burned (though it may have been damaged in other ways, for example, struck by stray bullets or explosive blasts).

At least some Islamist militants are protecting Christian places

AINA also stated that the Chaldean Church of the Holy Spirit was ‘looted by ISIS members, who removed most of its electrical equipment’, and concluded with an extract from Chaldean Church Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako’s statement to the Vatican’s news agency, Agenzia Fides, which suggested that it might have been the source, but it was not.

The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shamon Nona (or Emil Shimoun Nona), explained that the Church of the Holy Spirit ‘was depradated [sic – depredated] by gangs of robbers’ on the 10th and 11th of June, during ISIL’s conquest. ‘But [local] Muslim families… called their Islamist militants, who intervened, putting an end to the looting. The same Muslim families phoned us to let us know that they themselves are controlling the church, and will not allow the jackals to return.’

The news is bad enough as it is

Archbishop Amel has explicitly ‘denie[d] rumors of [ISIL] attacks on churches‘. Again, please, check reports before repeating them.

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