The Islamic State has released photos that purportedly show militants laying explosives and blowing up Syria's notorious Tadmor prison in the recently captured city of Palmyra.
The images appear to show the prison, used by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his late father Hafez to house political prisoners, being reduced to rubble by a massive explosion. Fighters are also shown walking past giant painted pictures of Assad inside the apparently abandoned prison before the blast.
Syrian poet Faraj Bayrakdar famously called Tadmor a "kingdom of death and madness," according to the Washington Post. Bayrakdar, who was held at the prison for four years, also called it "a disgrace for the history of Syria and for all humanity."
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The prison was "designed to inflict the maximum suffering, humiliation and fear on prisoners," according to a 2001 Amnesty International report cited by Reuters.
The pictures released by the Islamic State appear to show a completely empty complex with no signs of prisoners or guards. It is unclear when the prison was evacuated or emptied of inmates and staff.
Since the militant group seized the ancient oasis city of Palmyra last week and the adjacent UNESCO World Heritage site, United Nations officials and other international figures have expressed concern that its priceless antiquities, shrines, tombs, and elaborate stone structures — some dating back 2,000 years — could be destroyed. IS posted photos this week, however, that appear to show the site still in good condition.
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Residents of the city have not fared as well. Local reports emerged this week claiming that hundreds of people have been killed and their bodies left in the streets.
Aid for at least 11,000 who have fled the city is being prepared by UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency. The displaced residents sought shelter at nearby towns about 70 kilometers from the center of Palmyra, according to UNHCR.
The seizure of Palmyra and destruction of the Tadmor prison came as a new report by INTERPOL suggested that more extremist groups from around the world — including in Africa and Southeast Asia — are pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, according to the Associated Press. The report also said the number of fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq from abroad has now risen to 25,000 from more than 100 nations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.