Assyrians citizens hold placards during a sit-in for abducted Christians in Syria and Iraq, at a church in Sabtiyesh area east Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Islamic State militants snatched more hostages from homes in northeastern Syria over the past three days, bringing the total number of Christians abducted to over 220 in the one the largest hostage-takings by the extremist group, activists said Thursday. Arabic on the placard from left to right, read, “God protect the Christians of Syria from all the evils of the devils,” , and “for our Syriac and Assyrian brothers, let us pray together.” (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
By ZEINA KARAM and SINAN SALAHEDDIN – Associated Press – Thursday, February 26, 2015
BEIRUT (AP) – Islamic State militants seized more Christians from their homes in northeastern Syria in the past three days, bringing the total number abducted by the extremist group to over 220, activists said Thursday.
At the same time, the extremists also released a video showing the continued destruction of the heritage of the lands under their control. It depicted men using sledgehammers to smash ancient Mesopotamian statues and other artifacts in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul.
The video, coinciding with mounting fears over the fate of the captive Christian Assyrians in Syria, sent a fresh wave of dread across the region, particularly among minorities who feel targeted by the group.
“Daesh is wiping Assyrian heritage in Mosul, and at the same time wiping them geographically from the face of the Earth,” said Osama Edward, director of the Assyrian Network for Human Rights in Syria. He referred to the Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
About 200 Assyrians and other Christians gathered in a church east of Beirut in solidarity with the victims in Syria and Iraq. Some cried openly.
One man held a banner that read: “We will not surrender, we will not be broken.” A few young men said they were preparing to go to Syria to fight and help their brethren defend their homes against the Islamic State group.
The destruction of artifacts in the Mosul museum is part of a campaign by IS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines – including Muslim holy sites – to eliminate what they view as heresy. They also are believed to have sold ancient artifacts on the black market in order to finance their bloody campaign in the region.
In the video released Thursday, militants used sledgehammers and drills to smash and destroy several large statues, which are then shown chipped and in pieces. The five-minute video also shows a black-clad man at an archaeological site in Mosul, drilling through and destroying a winged-bull – an Assyrian protective deity – that dates to the 7th century B.C.
The video was posted on social media accounts affiliated with the Islamic State group. Although it could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, it appeared to be authentic, based on knowledge of the Mosul Museum.
A professor at the Archaeology College in Mosul confirmed to the AP that the two sites depicted in the video are the city museum and a location known as Nirgal Gate, one of several gates to the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Ninevah.
“I’m totally shocked,” Amir al-Jumaili said by phone from outside of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. “It’s a catastrophe. With the destruction of these artifacts, we can no longer be proud of Mosul’s civilization.”
Very few of the museum pieces are not genuine, he said.
Irina Bokova, director general of the U.N.’s culture agency UNESCO, said in a statement that she was “deeply shocked” at the video. She said she asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council be convened “on the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage as an integral element for the country’s security.”
“I condemn this as a deliberate attack against Iraq’s millennial history and culture, and as an inflammatory incitement to violence and hatred,” Bokova said.
Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province fell to the militants in June 2014 after Iraqi security forces melted away.
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