When ISIS militants took over the small church-run residence in Kirkuk, Iraq, in which Monaly Najeeb and six other Christian women lived, there was no time to escape. They wrapped themselves in blankets and hid underneath the flimsy wooden cots in the small dorm room where they slept. Soon, the men entered their bedroom, rummaged through the girls’ bags and found their clothes. More so than death, Najeeb said she feared being raped by men whom she despised.
“Father help us,” Najeeb texted Father Roni Momika, a young priest in Erbil. “Are you in contact with the army?”
“Pray to the Virgin Mary,” he responded. “She will protect you.”
It wasn’t the first run-in Najeeb had with the militants. Najeeb and her friends had fled Mosul after ISIS took over the city and overran the university at which they’d studied. The militants had also devastated the women’s ancestral homes in Qaraqosh, once Iraq’s largest Christian city. Now, the extremists were with them in the same room. As fighting in Kirkuk raged, militants began bringing their injured into the building. One wounded ISIS fighter was brought into the dorm room and laid down on a cot. The man’s blood soaked through the mattress, dripping onto one of the women hidden beneath it.
Seven hours into the ordeal, one of the women received a text message from the Iraqi police with instructions for how to escape. The women bided their time, and eventually an opening emerged — the militants had left the dorm room, though Najeeb could still hear them in the house. The women moved quickly, running through the back door. An eight-foot wall stood between them and freedom — but, by a chance of fate, a chair sat nearby that allowed them to climb over.
Later, Najeeb would return to the house and see the remains of the militants, who had detonated their suicide vests. Now in Erbil, Najeeb is safe and with her family. “I don’t know how we stayed alive,” she said. At first, she agreed to speak with CNN under condition of anonymity. But she changed her mind, she said, after realizing she was no longer afraid.
Read the full story at CNN.