6 Mar 2015

IS fighters ‘bulldoze’ ancient Assyrian site at Nimrud

Islamic State fighters looted and bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq, government officials say.

Footage of the site being excavated from 2001.

Islamic State militants have begun to raze the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, Iraq‘s ministry of tourism said on Thursday.

Government officials say the militants have used heavy machinery to destroy the archaeological site, which is one of Iraq’s most celebrated. Nimrud was founded in the 13th century BC and lies around 30km (18 miles) south east of Mosul, which has been the target of US-led coalition air strikes on the militant group.

IS militants have shown little regard for historic sites, having destroyed a priceless collection of statues and sculptures in northern Iraq recently.

Last month, they uploaded a video showing what appeared to be the destruction of artefacts at an antiquities museum in Mosul, the northern city which was overrun by the group last June. An archaeologist described the damage they did as “incalculable”.

Read Lindsey Hilsum's blog: Islamic State fighters smash historic statues in Iraq

A statement from Iraq’s ministry of tourism and antiquities did not elaborate on the extent of the damage, saying only that the group continued to “defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity” with this latest act.

Nimrud was one of the four great cities of Assyria.

Images on social media, which Channel 4 News cannot independently verify, purportedly showed militants using bulldozers to knock down the site.

The director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, condemned the destruction, labelling it as a “war crime”.

In a statement, Ms Bokova said: “This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage.

Nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country. Irina Bokova, Unesco

“We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.

“We must respond to this criminal chaos that destroys culture with more culture,” she said, adding that both the international criminal court and the UN security council had been informed about the matter.

Unesco is working with Iraqi authorities and governments of neighbouring countries to crack down on the smuggling of artefacts from areas under Islamic State control, and has alerted auction houses to be on the lookout for stolen items.

Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser said the actions were a “desecration” of humanity:

Coalition forces hit Islamic State with 12 air strikes in Syria and Iraq in the latest round of attacks on the militant group, the Joint Coalition Task Force said in a statement on Thursday. Tactical units near Mosul were among the targets in the latest strikes, which began on Wednesday.