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Facing fines, conversion or death, Christian families flee Mosul

By Hamdi Alkhshali and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1120 GMT (1920 HKT)
A house in Mosul, Iraq, has the words
A house in Mosul, Iraq, has the words "property of ISIS" painted on a wall.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Families were told to leave their valuables and "go out with only the clothes on you"
  • ISIS had decreed that Christians had to convert, pay extra taxes or "face death by the sword"
  • On Friday, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave Christians in Mosul one day to leave

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Just days after the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said they killed hundreds of Syrians, dozens of Iraqi Christian families are now fleeing the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

On Friday, the al Qaeda splinter group issued an ultimatum to Iraqi Christians living in Mosul -- by Saturday at noon (5 a.m. ET), they must convert to Islam, pay a fine or face "death by the sword."

A total of 52 Christian families left the city of Mosul early Saturday morning, with an armed group prohibiting some of them from taking anything but the clothes on their backs.

"They told us, 'You to leave all of your money, gold, jewelry and go out with only the clothes on you,'" Wadie Salim told CNN.

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Images obtained exclusively by CNN show that the phrase "property of ISIS" scrawled in black paint on a number of the homes that were abandoned.

Some of the families headed for Irbil -- which is currently controlled by Kurdish forces -- and others toward the Dohuk province. The majority went to Dohuk, which is 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Mosul.

"We did not know how to act," said another Mosul resident, Um Nazik. "Are we going to get killed?"

ISIS was able to take over large swaths of land due to the lack of centralized authority in both Iraq and war-torn Syria. The Sunni militants hope to establish an Islamic state throughout the region it currently controls.

Salman al-Farisi, the ISIS-appointed governor of Mosul, declared that any family that planned to on staying in Mosul and not to converting to Islam would be required to pay 550,000 Iraqi dinar (about $470).

Letters distributed to Christians in Mosul in recent days said ISIS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, agreed to allow those who didn't embrace Islam or pay a special jizya tax to leave.

ISIS is notorious for its brutality -- the group is so violent that al Qaeda has attempted to distance itself from its former affiliate.

On Thursday in Syria's Homs province, the militant Sunni group killed 270 people after storming and seizing the Shaer gas field, the group said.

READ: Islamic extremists kill 270 in attack on a gas field in central Syria, report says

MAPS: Understanding the crisis

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali reported from Baghdad and Joshua Berlinger wrote this article from Atlanta.

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