The news out of ISIS-controlled Palmyra was bleak Sunday: Syrian antiquities officials received reports that the religious extremist militants had destroyed at least a portion of the ancient ruins for which the city is famous. According to sources in the city itself, ISIS rigged the 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin with explosives and set them off.
CNN reported August 24 that the fundamentalist Islamic organization ISIS had perpetrated yet another atrocity against an historic and/or sacred site that does not fit into their extremely constricted religious worldview. Palmyran sources reported Sunday, according to Syrian Director-general of Antiquities and Museums Maamoun Abdulkarim, that ISIS members placed large quantities of explosives at the site of the Temple of Baalshamin and detonated them.
“They destroyed an incredibly important architectural structure,”Abdulkarim said. “It is the first structure in the Palmyra complex to be destroyed, although they recently destroyed two Islamic shrines nearby. They said they would destroy the statues but not the structures themselves inside Palmyra. They lied.”
ISIS took control of Palmyra in May. Since the takeover, many have worried that the militants would destroy the ruins, which date back to the first century. Members of ISIS believe that shrines and artifacts do not adhere to their exclusionistic extremist brand of Islam, that they constitute idolatry. To allow their existence — to them — is heretical.
The Director-general said the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin was a loss for Syria and to the international community itself. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time that an ancient site has been intentionally destroyed by ISIS. It most likely won’t be the last.
Director-general Abdulkarim said that ISIS had destroyed two other ancient Muslim shrines in the area, one in Palmyra and another at another site just a few kilometers away. Additonally, several other monuments, temples and historic buildings have been mined, according to CNN. Also, an entrance statue of a lion at Palmyra’s museum has been destroyed.
ISIS has had no problem releasing footage of atrocities since it began its attempts to establish a religio-political state in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. The organization continues to create and post videos of beheadings, shootings (including mass shootings), and various forms of brutal punishments for breaking their oppressive “laws.” (Although not a video but comparable, ISIS posted a series of photos of executions where they suspended and dropped homosexuals from a tall building.)
The ruins of Palmyra have also been used to stage ISIS videos. Back in July, a particularly heinous display of inhumanity was videotaped using as a backdrop the Roman amphitheater among the ancient ruins. Child executioners, aged 12 and 13 according to the Daily Mail, stood behind and shot 25 captured Syrian soldiers.
But the atrocities committed — as is evident — are not just those committed against fellow humans. Videotaped destruction done historic artifacts and sites are also regularly posted. The extremists have filmed militants smashing artifacts in the museum of Mosul in Iraq. There is also video footage of ISIS members using sledgehammers, power tools and explosives to try to completely erase the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud.
The Temple of Baalshamin and the Palmyra ruins are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dedicated to the Phoenician god associated with storms and fertilizing rains, the temple itself is believed to have been built in 17 C.E.
Said UNESCO’s Director-general Irina Bokova (per The Independent): “The intentional targeting and systematic destruction of the cultural heritage of Syria is reaching unprecedented levels. Such acts are war crimes and their perpetrators must be accountable for their actions. UNESCO stands by all Syrian people in their efforts to safeguard their heritage, a heritage for all humanity.”