Seven Yazidis killed in Iraq attack

Mosul, Iraq - Seven members of a family belonging to the ancient Yazidi religious sect were gunned down in their home overnight in the town of Sinjar in northwest Iraq, police said on Monday.

"A group of armed men entered a house during the night and fired at a Yazidi family, killing three women and four men," said Nashawan Mohammed, a police officer in the town of 240,000 people near the Syrian border.

In August last year, more than 400 Yazidi people were slaughtered when four suicide truck bombs targeted members of the sect, in the deadliest attack since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Yazidis -- who number several hundred thousand -- mostly live in the Mosul region of northern Iraq and speak a dialect of Kurdish but follow a pre-Islamic religion and have their own cultural traditions.

They believe in God the creator and respect the Biblical and Koranic prophets, especially Abraham, but their main focus of worship is Malak Taus, the chief of the archangels, often represented by a peacock.

Followers of other religions know this angel as Lucifer or Satan, leading to popular prejudice that the secretive Yazidis are devil-worshippers.

The community attempted to remain aloof from the vicious sectarian and political conflicts that gripped much of Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, but last year relations with nearby Sunni Muslim communities worsened dramatically.

In the August 2007 attack, bombers detonated four explosive-laden trucks in two Yazidi villages in Nineveh province.

The attacks, blamed by the US military on the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, massacred whole families of the religious minority.

In April last year, a mob of Yazidi men stoned to death Doaa Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old girl from their own people who had offended conservative local values by running away to marry a young Muslim man.

The savage murder was captured on cellphone videos and widely distributed, and Sunni extremists were quick to stage what they described as revenge attacks, but which resembled the insurgent killings elsewhere in Iraq.

Later that month, gunmen stopped a bus carrying workers home to the dead girl's village near Mosul, dragged out 23 Yazidis and shot them dead.

Yazidis' right to practice their religion is recognised in the new Iraqi constitution. They have three representatitives in the 275-member national parliament through the Kurdish list and have two seats from 111 in the Kurdish regional body.

Outside Iraq, there are Yazidis in Germany, Britain, Turkey, Russia and Syria.