Today, Wednesday, February 2, 2022, the Counter-Terrorism Unit at the Forum for Development and Human Rights issued a report entitled: “Terrorist organizations and Hostilities against Cultural and Archaeological Property (Iraq-Syria-Libya).”
The report emphasized that cultural heritage in Arab countries is currently subjected to many threats, violations and destructions due to the emergence of extremist terrorist groups, especially ISIS, which rejects the existence of various monuments and considers them against the Islamic religion. ISIS used the destruction of sites as a cover for looting artifacts, as large-sized pieces are destroyed in preparation for their transportation while those that can be sold are removed.
The report addressed a number of topics, including:
Destruction of cultural property by terrorist groups
The report mentioned that ISIS has stolen and destroyed cultural heritage since 2014 in both Iraq and Syria and to a lesser extent in Libya. In general; ISIS focused on destroying various targets such as places of worship and ancient historical sites, including rare archaeological ones. During the fall of Mosul from June 2014 to February 2015; ISIS looted and destroyed at least 28 historical and cultural buildings, while others were looted in order to sell them on the black market.
After capturing Mosul, they destroyed its museum, which is the second largest in the Middle East and ISIS began destroying Shiite mosques, tombs and Sufi shrines, that is, the heritage of Islamic sects that do not comply with ISIS’s strict interpretation of Islam. And they blew up the Sheikh Jawad mosque in Tal Afar and flattened it. ISIS deliberately destroyed the Al-Khidr Mosque, which was built in 1133 and named after a beloved Sufi Islamic figure. This is part of the campaign to rid the area of all Sufi shrines.
ISIS has also targeted many Christian heritage sites, destroying a number of Christian sites including the Church of the Virgin Mary north of Mosul and the Green Church dating back to the seventh century in Tikrit, one of the oldest churches in the Middle East.
In Syria, the report confirmed that 35,722 buildings in Aleppo have been damaged since September 2016. According to UNESCO, the history of the historic old city has been destroyed and the destruction of one of the largest and most impressive cities in the world is a tragedy for all Syrians and for all of humanity. In the city of Palmyra, they destroyed the “Lion of Al-Lat” statue, a 2,000-year-old statue that once guarded an ancient temple dedicated to pre-Islamic deities.
With regard to Libya, the report stated that some archaeological areas and museums were subjected to deliberate looting by some criminal and terrorist armed organizations, such as the rocky Acacus Mountains, the ancient city of Cyrene, the city of Shahat near the city of Al-Bayda and the city of Leptis Magna, which contains Roman antiquities classified by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites. And the matter was not limited to small artifacts, but also included looting and the seizure of an ancient statue of Omar Mukhtar, and the statue of “The Mermaid and
the Gazelle” in the capital, Tripoli.
ISIS and the antiquities trade:
The report mentioned that ISIS used a unit known locally as “settlement brigades”, which is the battalion responsible for identifying targets for demolition, looting, and theft. And the sale of antiquities by (ISIS) is not limited to traditional methods, but extends to cyberspace. A large group of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities have been spotted being publicly sold on popular online auction sites and stores such as eBay. The social networking site (Facebook) witnessed the launch of a number of pages through which ISIS fighters sell antiquities they steal from the areas they control militarily.
International efforts to protect cultural heritage:
The report monitored the most important initiatives taken by the international community to protect archaeological sites, including: the international initiative to combat the destruction of cultural property by terrorists, illegal trafficking and organized crime, Security Council Resolution 2347 on the protection of cultural heritage 2017 and the project of the International Center for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property ICCROM.
The report concluded by emphasizing that despite international agreements and efforts to protect and preserve cultural heritage, this did not prevent terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya from destroying cultural heritage and demolishing many historical places, until terrorist organizations gained immense wealth.