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ISIS Video Shows Extremists Smashing Priceless Artifacts

The self-styled Islamic State has released a video showing an orgy of destruction of ancient statues in the Iraqi city of Mosul, with footage at a museum and at least one archaeological site nearby.

The video begins with an image of the police known as the Hisba, tasked with enforcing their strict interpretation of Islamic law, patrolling the streets. Then, the scene cuts to bearded men ripping protective coverings from statues in the museum.

Mosul is set on the Nineveh plain, site of the rise and fall of several ancient civilizations, among them the Assyrians, the Parthians and the Sumerians. Some of the artifacts in the museum were as much as 2,500 years old, such as one tablet that depicted a banquet given by Assyrian King Ashurnipal II.

In the video, statues from the Parthian Empire can be seen — with distinctive beards and headdresses, and sculptures of the lamassu, which is a mythical beast usually shown as a winged ox or lion with a human head.

None, it seems, are spared. The bearded men wield sledgehammers and attack friezes. They push statues to the ground, shattering them, with carved heads rolling and splintering.

An unidentified, bearded man addresses "all Muslims." Speaking to the camera, he says these statues are the idols of people from previous centuries, who worshipped "without God." He says God commanded them to remove the idols and statues and that they will do so even if they are worth billions of dollars. As precedent, he cites the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad calling for the obliteration of all statues.

The group has already destroyed much of the heritage in Mosul, a populous city with a long Islamic history that has been intertwined with Christianity and other, smaller faiths. About six weeks after the extremists took the city, they demolished an ancient mosque, which had once been a church, known as the burial place of the prophet called Jonah in the Bible and Yunus in the Quran.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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