Source AP ©

Christian woman and her brother's bodies found in Basra

A Christian woman and her brother were found dead in a garbage dump, in the southern city of Basra, where women have grown increasingly fearful of religious vigilantes blamed for the deaths of at least 40 women.

Gunmen in an unlicensed white SUV with darkened windows first grabbed the brother - 31-year-old Osama Marzouq - and forced him to call his sister, 41-year-old Maison, and ask her to leave work and meet him on Sunday, the officials said. Their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered Monday, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal.

Basra's police chief, Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, has said patrols of motorbikes or unlicensed cars with tinted windows are accosting women not wearing traditional dress and head scarves, known as the hijab.

A 21-year-old history student at Basra College of Arts said women are harassed both at the school and in the streets.

"Islam and the Prophet Muhammad didn't order the killing of the women if they do not wear the hijab," she told The Associated Press. "My family is a secular one, but respects Islam's instructions. Now I'm forced to wear the hijab when I leave my house, and my mother and sister have to as well."

She said she was stopped once by two fellow students and ordered to cover her hair and stop wearing makeup "otherwise it's better for me not to attend class."

Another woman, a 43-year old Christian housewife, said her family was driven from the city where they had lived for years, and fled to a Christian neighborhood of Baghdad.

"It started last May when gunmen stopped me and my husband as we were walking and asked me about my clothes and why I did not wear the hijab," she said. "Then we were beaten when I told them that we are Christians, and they threatened to kill me if I would not respect Islam in this city."

The women refused to let their names be used, fearing they would be targeted.

Throughout Iraq, many women wear a headscarf and others wear a full face veil, although secular women are often unveiled. In recent years, armed Islamic extremists in some parts of the country have sometimes forced women to cover their heads or face punishment. Christian women have even been forced to wear headscarves in many areas, including Baghdad.

In an interview Sunday, Khalaf said 40 bodies have been found this year in garbage dumps with bullet holes, decapitated or otherwise mutilated with a sheet of paper nearby saying, "she was killed for adultery," or "she was killed for violating Islamic teachings."

The officials Tuesday said no notes were found with the bodies of the woman and her brother. Basra is Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

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