A temple still stands after 1,750 years in Hatra. Photo: AP

IS bulldozing ancient city of Hatra because its 2,000-year-old temples 'promotes idolatry'

Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site, is made up of a series of temples and is now under siege


Militants with the Islamic State group have begun demolishing the ancient archaeological site of Hatra in northern Iraq in a push to rid its territory of symbols it says promote idolatry.

An official with the ministry of tourism and antiquities' archaeological division in Mosul said multiple residents living near Hatra heard two large explosions yesterday morning, then reported seeing bulldozers begin demolishing the site.

Saeed Mamuzini, a Kurdish official from Mosul, said the militants had begun carrying away artifacts from Hatra as early as Thursday and yesterday, began to destroy the 2,000-year-old city.

Hatra, located 110km southwest of the city 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 AD116 and AD198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers.

The ancient trading centre in Hatra spanned 6km in circumference and was supported by more than 160 towers. At its heart are a series of temples with a grand temple at the centre - a structure supported by columns that once rose to 390 metres.

The Sunni extremist group has been campaigning to purge ancient relics they say promote idolatry that violates their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law. A video they released last week shows them 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.

On Friday, the group 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 declared "a war crime".

Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab said many feared Hatra would suffer the same fate as Nimrud. "This is not unusual [behavior] for Daesh," Shirshab said, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

A statement on the ministry's Facebook page said the government was investigating reports of the attack on Hatra, noting that the global community should hasten its response to the crisis in Iraq in order 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.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: IS bulldozing ancient city because it 'aids idolatry'