BBC Arabic reports that the terrorists of the Islamic State, in full control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, have destroyed two of its most ancient religious sites: the 1300-year-old Assyrian Green Church and the ancient Forty Shrine mosque.
According to the Assyrian International News Agency, which translated the BBC’s Arabic-language report, Islamic State terrorists surrounded both buildings with explosives and completely leveled them. The Assyrian Green Church is believed to have been built in 700 A.D. and was considered among the most elaborate and beautiful ancient Christian sites in Iraq. The Church, AINA notes, had been condemned to destruction in 1089 by the Muslim then-governor of the region but survived and was ultimately restored under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
The Forty Shrine mosque, AINA reports, was the “oldest Islamic religious shrine in Iraq.” It, too, fell under the pressure of explosives, as well as the tombs surrounding the mosque itself, which AINA notes were believed to have held the remains of 40 comrades of the Prophet Muhammad. It is believed to be as old if not older than the Green Church.
AINA also provides a video report on the Green Church from Iraqi television (in Arabic):
The terrorists of the Islamic State have made it a mission to destroy many of Iraq and Syria’s most important ancient historical sites. Many, like the Green Church, are destroyed because of their religious value to religions that the Islamic State considers enemies of Islam. The group has targeted both Christian and ancient pagan sites as unacceptable to Islamic State authorities but has also targeted mosques.
In addition to other religions the Islamic State wishes to destroy, their fanatical opposition to Shia Islam has led jihadist groups to target and destroy Shia religious cites with hundreds, if not thousands, of years of history. Some targeted sites have survived. In Mosul, a city the Islamic State emptied of its Christian population, residents fought back an attempt to destroy an 840-year-old Mosque sacred particularly to Shia Muslims.
The Islamic State’s destruction of ancient history is not only a matter of principle for the terrorist group, however. The black market is fertile for selling ancient artifacts, and many jihadists are believed to be using ancient sites as a source of income to buy weaponry and expand their influence in northern Iraq. This poses a significant danger to archaeological finds, as the jihadists are not properly equipped to handle delicate ancient artifacts and have broken several finds into pieces to sell individually, thus making more money while also indelibly damaging priceless ancient art.