BAGHDAD-Officials in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul said on Saturday that Islamic State militants have begun demolishing the ancient northern archaeological site of Hatra, in a push to rid the territory it controls of symbols that it says promote idolatry.
An official with the ministry of tourism and antiquities’ archaeological division in Mosul said residents living near Hatra heard two large explosions on Saturday morning. They reported seeing bulldozers begin demolishing the site. The official spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal.
Separately, Saeed Mamuzini, a Kurdish official from Mosul, said the militants had begun carrying away artifacts from Hatra as early as Thursday and on Saturday, began to destroy the 2,000-year-old city.
Hatra, located about 68 miles southwest of Mosul, was a large fortified city during the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab kingdom. The ancient city, a Unesco world heritage site, is said to have withstood invasions by the Romans in A.D. 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers.
The ancient trading center was 4 miles in circumference and supported by more than 160 towers. At its heart were a series of temples with a grand temple at the center—a structure supported by columns that once rose to 100 feet.
The Sunni extremist group has been campaigning to purge ancient relics they say promote idolatry, which violates their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law.
A video they released last week shows militants smashing artifacts in the Mosul museum, and in January, the group burned hundreds of books from the Mosul library and Mosul University, including many rare manuscripts.
The majority of the artifacts destroyed in the Mosul Museum attack were from Hatra.
HATRA, LOCATED ABOUT 68 MILES SOUTHWEST OF MOSUL, WAS A LARGE FORTIFIED CITY DURING THE PARTHIAN EMPIRE AND CAPITAL OF THE FIRST ARAB KINGDOM. IT IS SAID TO HAVE WITHSTOOD INVASIONS BY THE ROMANS.
On Friday, the militants looted artifacts from Nimrud, a 3,000-year-old city in Iraq, and bulldozed it in a move United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon characterized as a war crime.
Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab said on Saturday that many feared Hatra would suffer the same fate as Nimrud. “This isn't unusual (behavior) for Daesh,” Shirshab said, using the Arabic acronym for the group.
A statement on the ministry’s Facebook page on Saturday said the government is investigating reports of the attack on Hatra, noting the global community should hasten its response to the crisis in Iraq to prevent these types of atrocities.
Last year, the militants destroyed the mosque believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, as well as the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis—both revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy Mosul’s 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure, preventing the militants from approaching.