In the basement of an decimated church in eastern Mosul, rubble and debris tell a gut-wrenching story of ISIS' depravity towards Yazidi women and girls. On the floor of the iconic house of worship lie tiny pieces of pink and yellow underwear and flower headbands belonging to the very young Yazidi sex slaves the barbaric terrorist group took captive.
Iraqi officials tell Fox News that at least 200 Yazidi girls and women were imprisoned in the historic Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Ephraim, one of the region’s largest Christian sites, which was freed by Iraqi forces several months ago.
“We found documents where they questioned them about their age, whether married or single, virgin or not, period or not,” Iraqi Forces 1st Lt. Waseem Nenwaya, told Fox News.
In addition, he noted, ISIS used the church to store documents from their various departments of the terror group.
In June 2015, a year after ISIS overran Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and much of its surrounding Nineveh Plains region, the group used street notices to announce it was converting that church into a “mosque of the mujahedeen.” Subsequently, the cross from the dome was ripped down and all furniture in the house of worship was stripped of furniture and Christian symbols.
Instead, the church was cloaked with the black-and-white ISIS flag that declares in Arabic, “There is no God but Allah” and the graffiti-littered walls with their ominous motto “remaining.”
But despite being a bombed-out shell of what it once was and the chilling reminders in the rubble of ISIS abuse, locals are determined to restore and return St. Ephraim to the endangered Iraqi Christian community. Nenwaya said that the country’s Christian Affairs Department, in conjunction with several humanitarian-focused nongovernmental organizations from France and Italy have also pledged to assist with repairs.
“It was used as a mortar attack point,” he continued wistfully. “They caved the church walls.”
The butchered Christian building and its Yazidi remnants serve as chilling reminders of the genocide experienced by the two religious minorities. While U.S.-led airstrikes continue and Iraqi forces seize more and more pockets of ISIS territory, the war against Islamic terrorists like ISIS is far from over. Hundreds of thousands of Christians and Yazidis remain displaced across the country, with an inability or innate fear of returning home.
In early August 2014 ISIS assaulted the Yazidi’s ancestral home of Sinjar – slaughtering and enslaving thousands 10,000. More than 6,500 were kidnapped to become either forced jihadists or sex slaves. Over the course of ISIS’ reign, thousands managed to escape or were murdered at the hands of their captors.
But around 2,000 remain unaccounted for and only a relatively small number have managed to emerge from the basements of Mosul in recent months, even as ISIS numbers are fast shrinking.
“Some locals have come forward and delivered girls, whom they were protecting, to the troops,” Nenwaya acknowledged. “But there are not many left.”
Last week, according to local activists, ISIS publicly caged and burned alive 19 Yazidi girls for refusing to have sex with ISIS fighters, according to local activists. Yazidi leaders last year showed Fox News photographs of the Islamic jihadists burning babies to death on a slab of sheet metal, photos that show tiny, roasted bodies side by side as flames engulfed them.
For most Yazidis awaiting the return of loved ones, the silence has been deafening. However, Nenwaya stressed that they have a “clear order” from top brass above to prioritize the search for Yazidi hostages, and they have some information from locals on existing locations the girls are being held. Over the weekend, Iraq’s Ministry of Defense stated that another Yazidi lockup was located in the western Mosul region of Qairawan, as clearing operations continued.
It is also believed that some Yazidi slaves – those who have managed to stay alive this long – have in recent months been transferred to the terrorist group’s so-called “caliphate capital” of Raqqa in Syria. Raqqa, too, is currently being pummeled by coalition forces and with the support of Kurdish ground troops, and every day is getting closer to falling out of ISIS control.
But with liberation also comes the discovery of more and more Yazidi mass graves.
“We haven’t opened [the latest mass grave discovered] it yet,” one Yazidi soldier, pointing to a section of cornered off dirt along an abandoned road strip. “They were just people trying to run away.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay