The Islamic State is turning Christian churches in Iraq and Syria into dungeons and torture chambers after stripping them of priceless artifacts to sell on the black market, according to reports.
Ancient relics and even entire murals are being torn from the houses of worship and smuggled out through the same routes previously established for moving oil and weapons in and out of the so-called caliphate, a vast region the jihadist army has claimed as sovereign under Sharia law.
"ISIS has a stated goal to wipe out Christianity,” Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice and the author of "Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore," told FoxNews.com. “This why they are crucifying Christians -- including children -- destroying churches and selling artifacts. The fact is, this group will stop at nothing to raise funds for its terrorist mission.”
It’s not clear what items have been stolen, but the terrorist group has sought to destroy religious groups that don't embrace its twisted and violent interpretation of Islam, and has already blown up several revered Christian sites and monuments.
Last July, ISIS militants used sledgehammers to destroy the tomb of Jonah in Mosul. Around the same time, they were destroying Sunni shrines and mosques in the northern province of Ninevah, including the Shia Saad bin Aqeel Husseiniya shrine in the city of Tal Afar and the al-Qubba Husseiniya, as well as Christian churches in Syria. The group follows a strict interpretation of the Sunni faith which is against idolatry of anything other than God. ISIS has also threatened to destroy the holy sight of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Christianity, like Judaism and Islam, have powerful historical ties to the region, and some of its most treasured sites and relics are in Iraq and Syria, according to experts. Their destruction or dispersal is tragic, said Shaul Gabbay, senior scholar at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
“The Middle East is where the three monotheistic religions begun and anything that can inform us about the history and chronology of the development of religion is of unparalleled significance to the core identity of anyone who is Christian,” Gabbay told FoxNews.com. “This is where Abraham, the forefather of the three monotheistic religions, came from, where Moses led the Hebrews to the Promised Land and where Jesus Christ was born, walked, died and was resurrected.
“Anything physical part that exists from the past including more modern artifacts is of extreme value to Christianity both at the informative and educational level as well as the spiritual/faith level,” he said.
Experts believe Islamic State's trafficking in religious artifacts is both to make money and to culturally cleanse the region. The Islamic militants have converted churches in Qaraqosh and other Iraqi cities into torture chambers, according to the Sunday Times. One priest from the region, who gave his name as Abu Aasi from Mosul, told the newspaper earlier this month that prisoners were being held in the Bahnam Wa Sara and Al Kiama churches.
“These two churches are being used as prisons and for torture,” he said while in hiding. “Most inside are Christians and they are being forced to convert to Islam. Isis has been breaking all the crosses and statues of Mary.”
Christianity is believed to be practiced by just three percent of the population of Iraq. They lived in relative religious freedom while under Saddam Hussein's rule, but have faced persecution from Islamic State in the last two years. In particular, the Yazidi, a Kurdish Christian people, have been hounded and murdered by the extremist group, leaving many of them becoming refugees trying to escape the region.
“We know that ISIS considers several groups -- including Christians -- as 'infidels without human rights,'" Sekulow said. "ISIS jihadists commit violence against fellow Muslims in violation of Islamic law. They routinely commit war crimes and engage in torture in violation of international law; and they also kill and threaten Christian, Jewish, and other religious communities.”
“In short, ISIS is composed of religiously motivated psychopaths," he said.