It was the latest in a series of attacks on ancient structures and artifacts in Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State group has destroyed in the name of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
BAGHDAD — The Islamic State militant group attacked the ancient archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq and damaged it with heavy vehicles, Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said Thursday.
It was the latest attack on ancient structures and artifacts in Syria and Iraq that the group has destroyed in the name of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Last week, Islamic State group militants videotaped themselves destroying statues and artifacts in the Mosul Museum and at the Nergal Gate entryway to ancient Nineveh. The militants captured the city during its offensive blitz through much of Iraq in June.
“The terrorist gangs of ISIS are continuing to defy the will of the world and the feelings of humanity after they committed a new crime that belongs to its idiotic series,” the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page, referring to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
Nimrud is the sprawling site of a city founded by the Assyrian King Shalmenser I, who died in 1245 B.C.
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Among the most impressive objects at Nimrud are the colossal statues known as “lamassu,” mythological creatures that depict either lions or winged bulls with bearded human heads. Pairs of the 17-ton statues are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the British Museum in London.
The destruction recalled the Taliban’s annihilation of large Buddha statues in Afghanistan more than a dozen years ago, experts said.
Many of the massive Nimrud statues remain buried at the site. But the Islamic State group video from the Mosul Museum clearly shows at least one statue from Nimrud being defaced. The site has many areas that archaeologists have not yet explored.
George Papagiannis, the UNESCO world heritage officer in charge in Iraq from 2009 to 2011, said the loss of any artifacts from Nimrud is a blow to historical preservation.
“These extremists are trying to destroy the entire cultural heritage of the region in an attempt to wipe the slate clean and rewrite history in their own brutal image,” he said.
He added that Nimrud was recently nominated by the Iraqi government to be placed on UNESCO’s list of world-heritage sites, locations chosen for their “universal value.”
Ihsan Fethi, a member of the Iraqi Architects Society who has been tracking the destruction of heritage sites, said, “I cannot even describe the immensity of this loss.” He added: “This is one of the most famous and probably one of the most important sites in the world.”
Nimrud is also famous for its bas-reliefs and steles that depict scenes of war and hunting, and fantastical figures such as bird-headed genies. Many of those are in museums. Nimrud also was the site of extensive excavations that yielded carved ivory, jewelry, crowns and other artifacts that are stored in the archaeological museum in Baghdad, which in recent days reopened to the public.
The Nimrud site itself has suffered since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, when it was virtually abandoned as Iraqi state structures collapsed. Looters stole and damaged many sculptures. However, Fethi said, the site was partially safeguarded by its remote location, and until now its major structures were in good condition.
“Leaving these gangs without punishment will encourage them to eliminate human civilization entirely, especially the Mesopotamian civilization, which cannot be compensated,” the ministry added in its statement.
It called on the U.N. Security Council to come to Iraq’s aid.