ISIS destroys another ancient historic site after beheading its protector

Incalculable losses are endured every day in the territory ISIS commands. Many of those losses are human. For those who do not die at the hands of these barbarians, the scars are psychic and permanent and unimaginable. And, lest ISIS leave any of the world out of the pain it brings, or even those who have come before us and long since passed, the nihilists make sure to lay waste to the historic treasures in their path.


All summer, they’ve been tearing a path of archaeological destruction across the Middle East— ancient cities like Hatra and Nimrud.

Along the way, there have been some small victories for civilization:

On May 15, 2015, U.S. Special Operations Forces recovered a cache of hundreds of archaeological and historical objects and fragments during a raid in al-Amr (eastern Syria) to capture ISIL leader Abu Sayyaf. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL’s military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil, gas, and financial operations. The cache represents significant primary evidence of looting at archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq, theft from regional museums, and the stockpiling of these spoils for likely sale on the international market. It also corroborates evidence of looting previously documented by the Department of State and the American Schools of Oriental Research. All objects and fragments were turned over to officials at the Iraq National Museum on July 15 by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The cache is comprised of an assortment of archaeological artifacts and fragments, historical objects, modern/contemporary items, and replica or faked antiquities. More than half the items are coins made of gold, silver, and bronze. There are also items of pottery, glass, ivory, stone, and leather including jewelry, figurines, bowls, and manuscripts. While some items were clearly property of Mosul Museum, all are now in the hands of Iraqi experts, who are working to determine the likely provenance of each object.


It’s not a great deal of comfort considering what ISIS is doing, but there is a small amount of comfort in recovering some of this stuff and hoping more of it will show up later instead of being lost for all time.

There is no such hope for a 2,000-year-old temple in Palmyra, destroyed this weekend:

The ISIS occupation of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra has taken its newest tragic turn, the same week after militants brutally executed a renowned Syrian scholar deemed a “protector” of the ruins.

The so-called Islamic State has destroyed one of the city’s most well-known ruins, the Temple of Baalshamin, believed to be nearly 2,000 years old, according to the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums.

ISIS detonated “a large quantity of explosives” at the site Sunday, also damaging nearby columns, the group said in an online statement.

Director General of UNESCO Irina Bokova called the reports of the temple’s demolishing a “new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity.”

On its way to this destruction, ISIS had beheaded an archaeologist in Palmyra who refused to reveal the locations of certain antiquities.

On Tuesday, [Khaled al-As’ad] was beheaded in the public square of the city whose heritage he had worked so hard to save, said Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Al-As’ad, a university professor and the former general manager for antiquities and museums in Palmyra, was decapitated as militants watched, Abdulrahman said, citing al-As’ad’s relatives in the city.

His crime? Refusing to pledge allegiance to ISIS — and refusing, under ISIS interrogation, to reveal the location of archaeological treasures and two chests of gold the terrorists thought were in the city, Syria’s director of the General Department of Antiquities and Museums, Maamoun Abdulkarim, told CNN on Wednesday.


He sounds like a brave man. He had refused to flee Palmyra in part because he felt a responsibility to do what he could to protect sites like the temple, according to reports.

As Jazz noted last month, this is just the natural and horrible conclusion of Syria’s collapse:

Bashar al-Assad has lost control and the rest of the nations engaged in the region should just come to grips with that. By his own admission more than half of his army is gone, either through death, defections or simply taking off their uniforms and returning to what’s left of their homes. The provincial capital of Idlib, as well as Palmyra have fallen to some combination of ISIS and the rest of the Islamic militants fighting in the streets across the nation. At this point, Assad is holding on to Damascus, Homs and Hama… and really that’s about it. The dead on both sides number in the hundreds of thousands according to UN observers and he is unable to provide basic services or even physical security to the remaining citizens who have not fled.

According to UNESCO, the Temple of Baalshamin “bears witness to the depth of the pre-Islamic history of the country,” which is of course its sin and the sin of anyone willing to protect it.

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