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IS video shows destruction of ancient artefacts in Iraq

Islamic State group claims artefacts are symbols of idolatry
An image grab taken off a video reportedly released by Media Office of the Nineveh branch of the Islamic State (AFP)

Islamic State militants armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers have destroyed priceless ancient artefacts in the Iraqi city of Mosul, a video released by the group Thursday shows.

Experts and officials confirmed the destruction, which they compared to the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The video shows IS militants knocking statues off their plinths and rampaging through the Mosul museum's collection, which includes artefacts from the Assyrian and Hellenistic periods dating back to several centuries before Christ.

It also shows IS using a jackhammer to deface an imposing granite Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal Gate in Mosul. 

"Muslims, these artefacts behind me are idols for people from ancient times who worshipped them instead of God," said a bearded militant speaking to the camera.

"The so-called Assyrians, Akkadians and other peoples had gods for the rain, for farming, for war... and they tried to get closer to them with offerings," he goes on. 

"The prophet removed and buried the idols in Mecca with his blessed hands," he said, referring to the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Experts said the items destroyed include original pieces, reconstructed fragments and copies.

The artefacts destroyed are from the Assyrian era and from the ancient city of Hatra, which lies in the desert about 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Mosul.

The fate of the museum's Islamic collection remains unclear.

"This is kind of their Bamiyan moment," said Charles E Jones, a Pennsylvania University librarian and scholar who has worked for years to protect Iraqi heritage.

On Thursday, IS fighters also blew up the 12th century Khudr mosque in central Mosul, witnesses and academics said.

Ihsan Fethi, an Iraqi professor of architecture based in Amman, described it as "a terrible loss and an unbelievable act of cultural terrorism."

He said they blew it up because the mosque also housed a tomb, something IS considers as amounting to idolatry.

IS have controlled Mosul, Iraq's second city, since seizing it in a June offensive that saw them conquer large parts of the country.

They have systematically destroyed heritage sites, including several Sunni Muslim shrines.

Earlier this month, the United Nations adopted a resolution to curb trafficking in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria, which have been a source of funding for IS.

Referring to the destroyed artefacts in the Mosul museum, the man appearing in the video released on Thursday says: "Even if they are worth billions of dollars, we don't care."

But in his Conflict Antiquities blog, Dr Samuel Hardy, an archaeologist and criminologist, argues that IS are only destroying the bulky pieces that cannot be smuggled out of the country.

"All this video really shows is that they are willing to destroy things that they can't ship out and sell off," he wrote.

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