Iraqi security forces arrested four men today for allegedly planning attacks on members of the country's Christian community in the northern city of Mosul, a top official said. "Four people have been arrested today in Mosul's northern neighbourhoods of Al-Jaza'ar and Al-Nabi Yunus," the defence ministry spokesman Maj Gen Mohammed al Askari said. "They are suspected of planning the attacks against the Christians in Mosul." Twelve Christians have been killed in past weeks in Mosul, provoking more than 1,300 families of the mixed Christian minorities to flee their homes in the country's third largest city. Iraqi authorities have not publicly announced who they believe is behind the campaign of violence, although al Qa'eda is suspected. The attacks have been widely condemned by religious and political groups. 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, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The UN 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," the UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
Mosul, 390km north of Baghdad, remains one of Iraq's most restive cities even as violence has dramatically dropped elsewhere in the country.
Most of the Christians who fled Mosul are staying with relatives in surrounding areas, while some have gone as far as Dahuk and Arbil, Mr 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.