Islamic State militants have continued their “cultural cleansing” of Iraq and Syria – this time blowing up the ancient city of Nimrud.
According to Sky News, a video posted online appears to show the terror group’s fighters smashing artefacts at the 3,000-year-old site near Mosul in northern Iraq.
Militants are seen with large barrels of powder in a room lined with gypsum slabs, beautifully carved with representations of Assyrian figures.
The explosion sends a huge mushroom cloud into the sky and turns yet another important part of history to dust and fragments.
Fighters hack away at statues with sledgehammers and carve them up with angle grinders, claiming God had “honoured” them by “removing and destroying everything that was held to be equal to him and worshipped without him”.
A militant speaking at the end of the destruction says: “Whenever we are able in a piece of land to remove the signs of idolatry and spread monotheism, we will do it.”
Nimrud was founded in the 13th century BC and contains one of the most famous archaeological sites in a country dubbed the cradle of civilisation.
It was such an important city that it was on UNESCO’s tentative list of world heritage sites.
The attacks, which follow similar destruction of archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria earlier this year and in 2014, have been widely criticised.
Middle East expert Professor Fawaz Gerges, from the London School of Economics, described IS as a “social epidemic” that is “culturally cleansing” an area the size of the UK.
He told Sky News that militants had caused “catastrophic” damage to Iraq’s – and the world’s – cultural heritage.
“(They have) been systematically destroying ancient relics and cultural artefacts both in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “The United Nations has called what IS are trying to do ‘war crimes’.
“They have a puritanical sense of an ideology that believes in cultural cleansing – not just people, but even art and culture. They want to purify the land – to establish a totalitarian ideology.”
He said the jihadists are using the video as a “powerful propaganda tool” to counter set-backs on the battlefield.
“They believe that ancient relics, museums, are basically idols. Idols that basically substitute idols for God,” he said.
“These particular videos are designed for the hardcore, for the … jihadists who believe in this particular ideology … It’s part of a propaganda, part of their ideological nightmare, it’s part of a puritanical, severe interpretation of Islam.”
Abdulamir Hamdani, an archaeologist from Stony Brook University in New York, said of Nimrud: “It’s really a very important site in the history of Mesopotamia.
“Many of Assyria’s greatest artistic treasures came from this site.”
Nimrud is the later Arab name given to a settlement originally called Kalhu, and was plundered by Western explorers.
It was also looted and damaged during the 2003 US invasion.
Most of Nimrud’s most valuable artefacts were moved long ago to museums in Mosul, Baghdad, Paris and London.
But giant “lamassu” statues – winged bulls with human heads – and sculptures were still on site.