updated 10/11/2008 6:33:15 PM ET 2008-10-11T22:33:15

An upswing in insurgent attacks against Christians in Mosul has forced 500 families to flee in the last week and seek shelter at churches, monasteries and relatives' homes, the governor of northern Iraq's Ninevah province said Saturday.

Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula estimated some 3,000 people have fled the city in what he called a "major displacement."

So far this month, police in Mosul have reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians killed in separate attacks, the latest a day laborer found on Wednesday.

Kashmoula said provincial security officials were meeting with Christian leaders to protect the community "from the terrorists, the killers."

Bashir Azoz, a 45-year-old carpenter, said he fled his home Saturday after gunmen warned a neighbor the day before to leave or face death.

"Where is the government and its security forces as these crimes take place every day?" said Azoz, who is now staying with his wife and three children in a monastery in the Christian-majority town of Qarqoush.

The Christian community has been estimated at about 800,000 people, or 3 percent of Iraq's population of 26 million. The community has a significant presence in the northern Ninevah province.

Islamic extremists have frequently targeted Christians since the 2003 U.S. invasion, forcing tens of thousands to flee the country.

The attacks had tapered off over the summer after U.S.-Iraqi operations, aimed at routing al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgents, helped dramatically reduce violence nationwide.

On Saturday, a convoy carrying an official from Iraq's largest Sunni political party was targeted while traveling through Mosul, police said. No one was hurt.

In a separate incident, a civilian and an armed man were killed in random gunfire in a Mosul market, according to police.

But this month's sectarian attacks have renewed concern. Earlier this week, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako said he was worried by a "campaign of killings and deportations against the Christian citizens in Mosul."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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