Christians celebrate Christmas Eve in Mosul for first time after ISIS defeat

Iraqi Christians gathered in Saint Paul's Cathedral in eastern Mosul.

— LONDON -- Iraqi Christians gathered in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in eastern Mosul yesterday to celebrate Christmas Eve there for the first time since ISIS took control of the city more than three years ago.

A bell rang as people entered the cathedral, according to video of the event posted by Iraqi TV station al-Mawsleya. The congregants later sang Iraq’s national anthem and said prayers.

A speaker could be heard telling those gathered that they were not only celebrating the birth of Jesus, but also the birth of their country.

In July, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul over ISIS, about three years after the extremist group took control over the city and roughly nine months after the country launched an operation to retake the area.

When ISIS occupied Mosul in 2014, the jihadists destroyed historic religious buildings and issued an ultimatum to Christians: convert to Islam, pay a tax, or die.

This forced many Christians to flee and ISIS fighters stripped many families of their belongings as they left. Since ISIS' defeat, some Christians have been able to return to their cities.