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Video by ISIS of a militant destroying an ancient Assyrian frieze. (All gifs by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

They were removing “signs of idolatry.”

That’s what an ISIS fighter said in a video published online Saturday that shows the full extent of the group’s destruction of the ancient ruins of Nimrud in early March, the AFP reported.

Wielding sledgehammers and power tools, militants were shown tearing into 3,000-year-old giant statues of winged bulls with human heads (known as “lamassus”) and a gypsum relief panel depicting ancient gods — none of whom are worshipped today.

ISIS fighters toppling ancient Assyrian sculptures.

“Here we are, thanks to God, as you see, removing every statue that was made to be equal to God,” one fighter announced.

Then — because all that iconoclasm can be really tiring — they finished the job with barrels of gunpowder rigged with explosives. Filmed from a distance, the former Assyrian capital and prospective UNESCO World Heritage Site went up in a dusty cloud of smoke. From the looks of it, it’s been completely leveled.

ISIS had already destroyed artifacts from Nimrud during its February attack on the Mosul Museum in Iraq, which housed some of its sculptures. Luckily, a few sculptures from the site were also moved to museums in Paris and London, and the famous “Treasure of Nimrud” — a trove of 613 jewels and golden ornaments discovered in 1988 and considered to be one of the 20th century’s greatest archaeological finds — is currently being safeguarded in Baghdad.

ISIS video reputedly destroying the ancient Assyrian archeological site of Nimrud.

For those who think that ISIS’s destruction of Nimrud is a war crime, as UN cultural agency chief Irina Bokova said when news of the attack first surfaced last month, the militant group has some choice words. In the recent video, an ISIS fighter called its critics “worthless people crying because we broke idols.” He complained that the media is “portraying believers as if they are barbarians who do not care about culture and civilization.”

A member of ISIS destroying an ancient bas-relief sculpture.

The militants vowed to continue the destruction of cultural heritage sites, which no doubt provides an escape from their everyday routine of killing innocent civilians.

“I swear to God, we will remove the signs of idolatry until we destroy the shrines and the graves of the Rafidha [derogatory slang for Shiites] in their own heartland, break the crosses and destroy the black house in the heartland of infidels, America,” a militant said.

Yes, ISIS honestly thinks it’s going to destroy the White House.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and loitering in her community bookstore.

One reply on “ISIS Video Shows Devastating Destruction of Ancient Assyria’s Capital”

  1. At the risk of stating the obvious—a misstep difficult to avoid when commenting on the actions of these assholes— idolatry resides in one’s mind. From the lazy ancients who first ignored these artworks as relics of a past age too large to dispose of, to the opportunistic who followed and found ways of incorporating them into their own political narrative, to the originators of Islam who kept them as harmless examples of idolatry’s toothless bite, to the modern curators who preserved them as a significant part of early history, and even to members of Saddam’s regime who again took the ancient imagery into their political narrative, all these entities shared one simple property…they had no fear of idols.

    To fear the existence of an idol is to practice idolatry.

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