Islamic State militants destroying heritages in Syria and Iraq
Beirut: The Islamic
State group's demolition of the St Elian Monastery in the central Syrian
province of Homs is the latest in a long campaign that has destroyed or
extensively damaged some of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological
and cultural sites.
Some of the world’s
most precious cultural treasures, including ancient sites in the cradle of
civilization, are in areas controlled by the group and at the mercy of
extremists bent on wiping out all non-Islamic culture and history. In addition
to pre-Islamic sites, the militants have also targeted churches, mosques and
The rampage, targeting
priceless cultural artifacts often spanning thousands of years, has sparked
global outrage and accusations of war crimes. The militants are also believed
to be selling ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their
bloody campaign across the region.
In May, the extremists
captured the central Syrian town of Palmyra raising fears they would demolish
the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the edge of the town — a UNESCO world
heritage site and one of the Mideast's most iconic archaeological sites.
Here's a look at some
of the major sites destroyed by IS in Iraq and Syria, and others under their
ST. ELIAN: The
1,500-year-old monastery had already been damaged by Syrian government shelling
in recent weeks, according to an official with an organization representing
Assyrian Christians. On Friday, IS posted photographs on social media sites
showing bulldozers destroying the monastery.
PALMYRA: Islamic State
fighters fully captured the central Syrian town, home to one of the Middle
East's most spectacular archaeological sites, in late May. In June, the head of
the Syrian government's Antiquities and Museums Department, Maamoun Abdulkarim,
said IS militants had destroyed a lion statue dating back to the 2nd century.
The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gate of the town's museum, and
had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage. In July, IS released
a statement saying that six busts from Palmyra had been confiscated from a
smuggler. Photographs released by the group showed IS militants destroying the
busts with large hammers and the smuggler being whipped.
On Tuesday, IS
militants publicly beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old Palmyra resident
and antiquities scholar whose lifelong work had earned him the nickname
"Mr. Palmyra in the archaeological community.
NIMRUD: In the 9th
century BC, Nimrud, also known as Kalhu, became the second capital of Assyria,
an ancient kingdom that came to rule much of present-day Iraq and the Levant
and became a great regional power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C.,
is located on the Tigris River just south of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul,
which was captured by the IS group in June 2014. The late 1980s discovery of
treasures in Nimrud's royal tombs was one of the 20th century's most
significant archaeological finds. The government said militants destroyed the
site in March using heavy military vehicles.
HATRA: One day after
the destruction of Nimrud, IS militants bulldozed the 2,300-year-old ruins of
Hatra, a well-preserved complex of temples south of Mosul and a UNESCO World
Heritage site. The move was described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as a
MOSUL MUSEUM: On Feb
26, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic State militants with
sledgehammers destroying ancient artifacts at the museum in Mosul which they
referred to as idols. They also destroyed the Nirgal Gate, one of several gates
to Ninevah, the onetime capital of the Assyrian Empire.
MOSUL LIBRARIES: In
January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul,
smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts.
Days later, militants broke into the University of Mosul's library. They made a
bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in
front of students.
SHRINES: Last year,
militants destroyed the centuries-old Mosque of the Prophet Younis — believed
to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah — and the Mosque of the Prophet
Jirjis, two revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy
Mosul's 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure to
DURA EUROPOS: The
2,300-year-old city overlooking the Euphrates River is a remarkably
well-preserved cultural crossroads, a city first founded by Alexander the
Great's successors and later ruled by the Romans and various Persian empires. It
boasts pagan temples, churches and one of the earliest known Jewish synagogues.
Satellite imagery taken last year show the site pockmarked with holes from
pillaging and illegal digs. It also showed hundreds of people conducting
MARI: An ancient city
located on the site of Tell Hariri on the western bank of the Euphrates River
in Deir el-Zour province. It is believed to have been inhabited since the 5th
millennium B.C. and was discovered in the early 1930s. It has also been severely
looted by IS.
TEL AJAJI AND TELL
BRAK: Prehistoric settlement mounds in Syria's far eastern Hassakeh province.
Experts say both have been looted and destroyed, artifacts have been removed
from both sites, and ancient statues — some dating back to the Assyrian period
— have been smashed.