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Christians flee Mosul after threats, attacks - UNHCR

GENEVA (Reuters) - About half of the Christians in Iraq’s northern town of Mosul, nearly 10,000 people, have fled in the past week after attacks and threats, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Iraq’s ministry of displacement and migration had reported that about 1,560 families or 9,360 people left Mosul. UNHCR could not confirm the figure but was concerned about the mass displacement.

“The displaced population would represent about half of the Christians in the Mosul area,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.

Most Christian Iraqis had decided to leave Mosul following “direct as well as indirect threats and intimidation,” he said.

Printed threats had been received on the university campus, in homes and on text messages sent to mobile phones, Redmond said. “We really don’t have a firm indication or do people we’ve talked to know exactly where the threats are coming from.”

Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, remains one of Iraq’s most restive cities even as violence has dramatically dropped elsewhere in the country.

The Iraqi authorities and the U.S. military says that al Qaeda, the Sunni Islamist militant group allied to Osama bin Laden that Washington blames for much of Iraq’s violence, are still active in Mosul.

At least a dozen people were wounded in a series of bomb explosions on Tuesday and Wednesday in the city, and at least two insurgents were killed in clashes with police.

Most of the Christians who fled Mosul are staying with relatives in surrounding areas, while some have gone as far as Dahuk and Arbil, Redmond said.

Relief items including food, clothing, blankets, stoves and clean water are urgently needed for those staying in community buildings, including churches, according to the UNHCR.

Most of the uprooted told UNHCR officials that they feared for their lives. “A few told us that they will only return if and when their safety and security can be assured by the local authorities,” Redmond said.