National Security

Church Bells Ring as ISIS Pushed Out of Iraqi Christian Town Near Mosul

The inside of the church of Saint Shmoni, damaged by ISIS fighters, in Bartella, Iraq / AP

Church bells rang in an Iraqi Christian town over the weekend for the first time since the Islamic State captured it more than two years ago, as Iraqi forces advance on the city of Mosul to push out the terrorist group.

The Christian town of Bartella was held by ISIS until Saturday, when Iraqi ground forces liberated the area. One Iraqi soldier signaled victory by ringing the bells of the town's church, which ISIS defaced by writing on its walls, "Our God is higher than the cross," the International Business Times reports.

The fight for Bartella was tougher than some of the other recent battles near Mosul, the country's second largest city, as ISIS used seven car bombs and six suicide bombers during the two-day battle. Bartella was taken back by Iraq's Golden Division, one of the army's most elite fighting units that has seen combat throughout the country as its soldiers try to clear out ISIS.

Bartella is one of the oldest Christian towns in the world, according to the Telegraph, inhabited by Assyrians since the first century. Many of the residents of the 15,000-person town left right before ISIS took it over.

Iraqi forces also advanced on the Christian city of Qaraqosh over the weekend, located about 12 miles southeast of Mosul. The area is no longer under ISIS control.

These developments came as Iraqi and Kurdish forces continued their offensive to retake Mosul, the Islamic State's last main stronghold in Iraq. U.S. officials believe the operation will take weeks if not months.