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Islamic State Video 'Smashing Idols' Shows the Demolition of Yet Another Ancient City

A new video released by the group shows militants using sledgehammers and rifles to destroy artifacts in the ancient Iraqi city of Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 4 2015, 4:15pm

Image via YouTube/Islamic State

The Islamic State has destroyed the priceless remains of another ancient city in Iraq, according to a new video released by the group that shows militants demolishing artifacts at the ancient city of Hatra.

The video, titled "Smashing Idols," was released Friday night and shows militants using sledgehammers and rifles to destroy artifacts at the archeological site. One man climbs up on a ladder to knock down a figure of a head with a hammer, while others fire their AK-47s and smash the statues and columns of an ancient temple nearby.

Hatra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was founded more than 2,000 years ago during the Parthian empire. It is heavily fortified and has withstood multiple invasions throughout the centuries thanks to its high, thick walls and towers, according to UNESCO.

In the video, one militant says they are destroying the ruins because they were being "worshipped instead of God." The ancient relics found at Hatra are considered "false idols," and idolatry is considered a crime under the Islamic State's fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

Related: Islamic State promotional magazine baits 'infidels' by highlighting child executioners 

It is not immediately clear how much damage the Islamic State caused to Hatra, but this would not be the first time the Islamic State has attempted to destroy the site. Last month, local officials reported that the militant group had blown up buildings and bulldozed others, while also looting gold and silver from the site.

Hatra is located about 70 miles southwest of Mosul, an Islamic State stronghold, and was a large trading hub and capital of the first Arab kingdom. It is home to multiple temples, including a central one that once had columns 100 feet tall, the Associated Press reported.

After reports of Hatra's destruction emerged last month, an Iraqi tourism and antiquities official condemned the international community for not acting sooner to prevent such crimes, the BBC reported.

"The delay in international support for Iraq has encouraged terrorists to commit another crime of stealing and demolishing the remains of the city of Hatra," the official said in a statement.

Hatra is not the only ancient site that the Islamic State has destroyed in its takeover of vast parts of Iraq and Syria. The militants looted and destroyed thousands of priceless artifacts in the Mosul Museum in February, followed by the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian site of Nimrud a few weeks later. In January, militants burned hundreds of ancient books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library and University.

On Thursday, the director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, called for the protection of ancient archeological sites in Syria, specifically in Idlib and Bosra.

"All Syrians must unite for the protection of their shared cultural heritage," Bokova said in a statement. "This heritage belongs to all Syrians and to all humanity. I call on all parties to refrain from using cultural heritage sites for military purposes and to protect them against any possibly damage and destruction resulting from fighting."

Related: Iraqi forces claim partial victory Over the Islamic State in Saddam Hussein's hometown 

Like many of the Islamic State's actions, the destruction of these ancient artifacts have been carefully documented and published online by the group. The acts have quickly provoked international outrage from officials, historians, and activists alike, with UNESCO calling it a war crime.

"We cannot remain silent. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. I call on all political and religious leaders in the region to stand up and remind everyone that there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity's cultural heritage," Bokova said in a response to the Islamic State's destruction of Nimrud last month.

In addition to destroying ancient archeological artifacts, the Islamic State has also reportedly cracked down on the dress code and behaviors of people living under its rule. Over the past several days, the militants reportedly issued new bans on wearing skinny jeans, smoking cigarettes, and having music on a cellphones for civilians in the Syrian city of Raqqa, reported the activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. If caught violating these laws, the penalty is reportedly imprisonment for 10 days, during which the prisoner receives an Islamic course and then a test to determine their release.

One informant told Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently that the Islamic State "uses the principle of intimidation in dealing with public… where the expression of view has become a crime, so you can not oppose or discuss a decision issued by the group, otherwise you will be arrested on charges of violation of God's law as its fighters claim, but they are far from this law."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928