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Destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL

Template:History of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant The destruction of cultural heritage has been conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since 2014 in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The premeditated destruction targets various places of worship, particularly those in Mosul, and ancient historical artifacts. In Iraq, between the fall of Mosul in June 2014 and February 2015, ISIL has plundered and destroyed at least 28 historical religious buildings.[1] The valuable items from some buildings were looted in order to smuggle and sell them to finance ISIL activities.[1] ISIL uses a unit called the Kata'ib Taswiyya (settlement battalions), who are ordered to choose targets for demolition.[2] UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova branded the ISIL activities in this respect as "a form of cultural cleansing"[2] and launched the Unite4Heritage campaign to protect heritage sites threatened by extremists.

Although Libya, Syria and Iraq ratified the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict in 1957, 1958 and 1967 respectively,[3] it has not been effectively enforced.

Mosques and shrines

Prophet Jonah (Nabi Yunus) Mosque in Mosul, pictured in 1999. It was destroyed by ISIL in 2014

In 2014, media reported destructions of multiple, chiefly Shiite, mosques and shrines throughout Iraq by ISIL.[4] Among them were Al-Qubba Husseiniya Mosque in Mosul, Jawad Husseiniya Mosque and Saad bin Aqeel Husseiniya Shrine in Tal Afar, Sunni Ahmed al-Rifai Shrine and tomb in Mahlabiya District and the so-called Tomb of the Girl (Qabr al-Bint) in Mosul.[4] The Tomb of the Girl, reputed to honour a girl who died of a broken heart, was actually believed to be the tomb of medieval scholar Ali ibn al-Athir.[5] In June 2014, ISIL bulldozed the shrine of Fathi al-Ka'en.[6] On September 24, 2014, the Al-Arba'een Mosque in Tikrit, containing forty tombs from the Umar era, was blown up.[7] On February 26, 2015 ISIL blew up the 12th century Khudr Mosque in central Mosul.[8]

In Mosul, ISIL also targeted several tombs with shrines built over them. In July 2014, ISIL destroyed one of the tombs of prophet Daniel by implanted explosives.[9] In the same year, on July 24, the tomb and mosque of prophet Jonah was destroyed with explosives.[10] On July 27, ISIL destroyed the tomb of Prophet Jirjis (George).[11] On July 25, 2014, the 13th-century shrine of Imam Awn al-Din in Mosul, one of the few structures to have survived the 13th-century Mongol invasion, was also destroyed by ISIL.[2] All destructions were carried out mainly with explosive devices, in some cases with bulldozers.[4] In March 2015, ISIL reportedly bulldozed to the ground the Hamou al-Qadu Mosque in Mosul, dating back to 1880.[12] In the same year ISIL ordered to remove all decorative elements and frescoes from mosques in Mosul, even those containing Quranic verses that mention Allah.[13] They were regarded by ISIL as "an erroneous form of creativity, contradicting the basics of sharia".[13] At least one imam in Mosul opposing that order was shot to death.[13]

ISIL also destroyed Sufi shrines near Tripoli, Libya, in March 2015. The shrines were destroyed by sledgehammers and bulldozers.[14]


On June 16, 2014, it was reported that the ISIL elements were instructed to destroy all churches in Mosul.[15] On July 26 of the same year it was announced that ISIL elements blew up the Virgin Mary Church in Mosul with several improvised explosive devices.[16] Later, on September 24, ISIL militants destroyed with improvised explosive devices the 7th-century Green Church (also known as St. Ahoadamah Church) belonging to the Assyrian Church of the East in Tikrit.[17] In early February 2015, ISIL blew up the Al-Tahera Church in Mosul, which dated back to the beginning of the 20th century and was among the oldest churches in the city.[1] On March 9, 2015, according to the Iraqi government official Dureid Hikmat Tobia, ISIL destroyed the 10th-century Chaldean Catholic St. Markourkas Church in Mosul.[18] As of 5 April 2015, ISIL destroyed the Assyrian Christian Virgin Mary Church on Easter Sunday in the Syrian town of Tel Nasri.[19] ISIL held the church since 7 March 2015.[19] "As the “joint forces” of Kurdish People's Protection Units and local Assyrian fighters attempted to enter the town", ISIL set off the explosives destroying what remained of the church.[19]

Ancient and medieval sites

File:Iraq; Nimrud - Assyria, Lamassu's Guarding Palace Entrance.jpg
Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, pictured in 2007. ISIL reportedly bulldozed the city in March 2015

On January 27, 2015, ISIL had reportedly bombed large parts and expanses of the Nineveh Wall in al-Tahrir neighborhood of Iraq.[20]

In the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah, ISIL publicly ordered the bulldozing of a colossal ancient Assyrian gateway lion sculpture from the 8th century BC.[21] Another lion statue was also destroyed. Both statues originated from the Arslan Tash archaeological site.[22] The destruction was published in the ISIL magazine, Dabiq. Among the lost statues are also those of Mulla Uthman al-Mawsili, of a woman carrying an urn and of Abu Tammam.[2]

On February 26, 2015, ISIL released a video showing the destruction of various ancient artifacts in the Mosul Museum.[8] The affected artefacts originate from the Assyrian era and from the ancient city of Hatra.[8] The video in particular shows the defacement of a granite lamassu statue from the right side of the Nergal Gate by a jackhammer. The statue remained buried until 1941 when heavy rains eroded the soil around the gate and exposed two statues on both sides.[23] Several other defaced items in the museum were claimed to be copies,[8] but this was later rebutted by Iraq's Minister of Culture, Adel Sharshab who said: "Mosul Museum had many ancient artifacts, big and small. None of them were transported to the National Museum of Iraq in Bagdad. Thus, all artifacts destroyed in Mosul are original except for four pieces that were made of gypsum".[24]

On March 5, 2015, ISIL reportedly started the demolition of Nimrud, an Assyrian city from the 13th century BC. The local palace was bulldozed, while lamassu statues at the gates of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II were smashed.[25] A video showing the destruction of Nimrud was released in April 2015.[26]

On March 7, 2015, Kurdish sources reported ISIL had begun the bulldozing of Hatra,[27][28][29] which has been under threat of demolition after ISIL had occupied the adjacent area. The next day ISIL sacked Dur-Sharrukin, according to the Kurdish official from Mosul Saeed Mamuzini.[30] The Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Ministry launched the related investigation on the same day.[30]

On April 8, 2015 the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism reported that ISIL destroyed the remnants of the 12th-century Bash Tapia Castle in Mosul.[31]

Following the capture of Palmyra, ISIL was reported as not intending to demolish the city's World Heritage Site.[32] On May 27, 2015 ISIL released a 87-second video showing parts of the apparently undamaged ancient colonnades, the Temple of Bel and the Roman theatre.[32]


On September 22, 2014, the United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Department of State had partnered with the American Schools of Orient Research to "comprehensively document the condition of, and threats to, cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria to assess their future restoration, preservation, and protection needs".[21] In 2014, the UNESCO's Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict condemned at the Ninth Meeting "repeated and deliberate attacks against cultural property... in particular in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Iraq".[33] UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called the destructions in Mosul a violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199,[8] and the destruction of Nimrud a war crime.[34] The former Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki reported that the local parliamentary tourism and antiquities committee had "filed complaints with the UN to condemn all ISIL crimes and abuses, including those that affect ancient places of worship".[1]

On March 28, 2015, Irina Bokova launched Unite4Heritage, a campaign aiming to create a global movement "to protect and safeguard heritage in areas where it is threatened by extremists".[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Khalid al-Taie (13 Feb 2015). "Iraq churches, mosques under ISIL attack". Al-Shorfa. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Denis MacEoin (December 27, 2014). "The Destruction of the Middle East". Gatestone Institute. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  3. ^ "Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention. The Hague, 14 May 1954". UNESCO. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c "ISIS Destroys Shiite Mosques And Shrines In Iraq, Dangerously Fracturing Country (PHOTOS)". The Huffington Post. 7 July 2014. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  5. ^ Praveen Swami (29 June 2014). "ISIS insurgents wage war on history". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  6. ^ "ISIL destroys two Shia religious sites in Iraqi city of Mosul". PressTV. Jun 25, 2014. Retrieved 28 Feb 2015. 
  7. ^ Abdelhak Mamoun (25 September 2014). "URGENT: ISIS destroys historical Al-Arbain mosque in Tikrit". Iraqi News. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Ancient artefacts destroyed in Iraq". 27 Feb 2014. Retrieved 28 Feb 2015. 
  9. ^ Hafiz, Yasmine. "ISIS Destroys Jonah's Tomb In Mosul, Iraq, As Militant Violence Continues". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "ISIL destroys Mosque of Biblical Jonah, Prophet Yunus". 24 July 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  11. ^ "Islamic State destroys ancient Mosul mosque, the third in a week". 27 July 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  12. ^ "ISIL Destroys Another Mosque in Iraq". Sputnik. 8 March 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c ""Исламское государство" заставило имамов Мосула удалять фрески со стен мечетей" (in Russian). Russian News Agency "TASS". 2 April 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Thornhill, Ted (10 March 2015). "ISIS continues its desecration of the Middle East: Islamic State reduces Sufi shrines in Libya to rubble in latest act of mindless destruction". Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "ISIL orders destruction of all churches in Mosul". Iraqi News. June 16, 2014. Retrieved 28 Feb 2015. 
  16. ^ Abdelhak Mamoun (July 26, 2014). "URGENT: ISIL destroys the Virgin Mary church in Mosul". Iraqi News. Retrieved 28 Feb 2015. 
  17. ^ "ISIL Destroys VII-century Church, Historical Mosque in Iraq". Alahednews. 26 September 2014. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  18. ^ "ISIL destroys historical church in Mosul". Worldbulletin News. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015. 
  19. ^ a b c "ISIS blew up a Syrian church on Easter". Now Lebanon via Business Insider. 6 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  20. ^ Abdelhak Mamoun (January 28, 2015). "ISIS detonates large parts of Nineveh historical wall". Iraqi News. Retrieved 28 Feb 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "Threats to Cultural Heritage in Iraq and Syria". US Department of State. September 23, 2014. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  22. ^ "Lion statues destroyed". UNESCO. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  23. ^ John Burger (2 March 2015). "What's Been Lost to Radical Islamists' Sledgehammers". Newsmax Media. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  24. ^ "ISIL Destroyed Original Artifacts, Not Copies — Iraqi Culture Minister". Sputnik. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015. 
  25. ^ "ISIL fighters bulldoze ancient Assyrian palace in Iraq". Al Jazeera. 5 March 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  26. ^ "'IS destruction of Nimrud' on video". Times of Malta. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  27. ^ "Reports: ISIS bulldozed ancient Hatra city in Mosul - RiyadhVision". RiyadhVision. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  28. ^ Yacoub, Sameer N. (7 March 2015). "IS destroying another ancient archaeological site in Iraq". ArmyTimes (United States). Associated Press. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  29. ^ "Islamic state 'demolish' ancient Hatra site in Iraq". BBC. 7 March 2015. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  30. ^ a b "Ancient site Khorsabad attacked by Islamic State: reports". Toronto Star. 8 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  31. ^ "Боевики "Исламского государства" взорвали древний замок Баш Тапия в иракском Мосуле" (in Russian). Russian News Agency "TASS". 8 April 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  32. ^ a b "Syria: Isis releases footage of Palmyra ruins intact and 'will not destroy them'". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
  33. ^ "Reinforce the immunity of our common heritage under threat". UNESCO. 21 December 2014. Retrieved 27 Feb 2015. 
  34. ^ "Nimrud: Outcry as IS bulldozers attack ancient Iraq site". BBC News. 6 March 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  35. ^ Centre, UNESCO. "#Unite4Heritage campaign launched by UNESCO Director-General in Baghdad". Retrieved 2015-05-15.