Isis 'bulldozes' Nimrud: UNESCO condemns destruction of ancient Assyrian site as a 'war crime'

Iraq's antiquities ministry said the extremists continue to 'defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity'

Heather Saul,Henry Austin
Friday 06 March 2015 02:14 GMT
ISIL video shows destruction of Mosul artefacts

Isis militants intensified their efforts to destroy invaluable historical landmarks in Iraq after “bulldozing" the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud near Mosul.

The antiquities ministry in Baghdad said Isis used heavy military vehicles to destroy parts of the city on Thursday, just weeks after it was filmed smashing historical artefacts with sledgehammers.

Qais Rashid, the Iraqi Deputy Tourism and Antiquities Minister, said he believes Isis may have removed all the "precious tablets" from the walls of Nimrud before bulldozing the site, Elijah J. Magnier, Al Rai's chief correspondent, told The Independent.

"We were aware Isis could have looted Nineveh but was impossible for us to remove a city like Nimrud," he was quoted as saying.

The head of the UN's cultural agency UNESCO condemned the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage as tantamount to a "war crime".

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement: "We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime.

“I call on all of those who can, especially youth, in Iraq and elsewhere, to do everything possible to protect this heritage, to claim it as their own, and as the heritage of the whole of humanity." Ms Bokova warned "the survival of the Iraqi culture and society" is at stake.

The Independent reported threats from Isis that it would destroy Nimrud after it devastated Mosul Museum in February.

Men filmed destroying archaeological pieces reportedly told bystanders they would continue their path of destruction in Nimrud.

Nimrud was one of the most important cities of the Assyrian empire and served as the main residence for the dynasty’s kings until 727 BC.

UNESCO says the site, first known as Kahlka, was founded more than 3,300 years ago.

The true extent of the damage remains unclear. A spokesperson for UNESCO said it was unable to clarify exactly which parts had undergone the most damage.

The site, which sits 20 miles south of Mosul on the banks of the Tigris river, was where treasures were discovered in royal tombs in the 1980s, which is considered one of the 20th century's most significant archaeological finds, according to the Associated Press.

The extremists continue to “defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity”, Iraq’s ministry of tourism and antiquities said in a posting on its Facebook page.

Excavations at Nimrud were started by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Lanyard who brought more than six pairs of colossal statues of lions and bulls, known as lamassu, to the UK. They now reside in the British Museum.

Isis has attacked other archaeological and religious sites, claiming that they promote apostasy. Mr Magnier said the group justifies destroying statues because it claims they can be worshipped or idolised.

He said the group has been releasing information about its destructive activities gradually in order to maintain world-wide attention.

“It helps to distract from other events and losses on the ground," he added.

Militants recently ransacked Mosul library, looting and destroying thousands of historic manuscripts and books.

The extremist group also uses looted artefacts as a major source of funding after oil, smuggling pieces sometimes worth millions out of Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the military commander of the Syrian jihadist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, has been killed in an air strike, the al-Qaeda-linked group has said on social media. Three other leaders were killed along with Abu Homam al-Shami, it said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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