Christian militia finds Iraq's largest monastery ransacked after retaken from ISIS

Christian militia fighters have found a fourth-century monastery and heritage site near Mosul ransacked after they retook the place from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the weekend.

(Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)People take pictures at the Mar Behnam monastery after the town was recaptured from the Islamic State, in Ali Rash, southeast of Mosul, Iraq, November 21, 2016.

During the two-year occupation of ISIS, the militants burned Christian theology books and scraped off Syriac inscriptions at the Mar Behnam monastery near Mosul. They also destroyed the sculptures of saints including that of the Virgin Mary and removed crosses from Iraq's largest monastery, Reuters details.

"Their fundamental goal was to destroy Christian history and civilization in the Nineveh plains," Christian militia Babylon Brigades commander Duraid Elias told Reuters on Monday.

According to Elias, ISIS used Mar Behnam as a headquarters for morality police known as Hisba. The jihadists converted a sitting room into a clinic and monks' bedrooms into holding area for transgressors. Satellite dishes confiscated from nearby residents were stored in a far corner of the complex and ISIS graffiti could be seen all over the monastery's walls.

As of now, Iraqi forces are still trying to free Mosul from Iraq and the degree of destruction in surrounding Christian areas is being recorded. The clashes with ISIS fighters have left entire towns and villages destroyed, and it could take months or years before the people could return to their homeland.

Meanwhile, Kurdish militia fighters and residents of the Iraqi town of Bashiqa have restored a cross that ISIS jihadists remove from Saint George's church. Over the weekend, the residents held a solemn ceremony to install the new plain white cross in place of the old and elaborate one destroyed by the militants, RT reports.

Together with other returning priests, Rev. Afram al-Khoury Benyamen led the Iraqi Christians in a prayer. Before they held the ceremony to reinstall the church cross, they spent a few days cleaning up the mess that ISIS fighters left behind when they were trying to escape from Iraqi forces liberating the city.