The Islamic State has released video of their destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that the jihadist group had under their control for ten months. In the video, jihadists can be seen running over ancient mummies, taken out of their tombs, with what appears to be a large truck.
The Daily Mail has published the video, which begins with jihadists tossing around ancient statues in the city and breaking them apart with axes. The video then shows a close-up shot of mummies lying in a line on the floor. A large vehicle, which appears to be a military truck, then drives over them, crushing the remains. The mummies appear significantly preserved, with visible facial structures.
Islamic State jihadists consider all historical artifacts from pre-Islamic civilizations to be icons of sinful idolatry, and the terrorist group’s leaders have asserted that it is their mission to destroy all evidence of any non-Muslim societies. During the ten months they controlled Palmyra, the terrorists destroyed some of the most important icons in the city, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel and the city’s famous ancient Arch of Triumph. The Daily Mail notes that terrorists also beheaded the city’s archaeologist, the octogenarian Khaled Asaad, who refused to participate in the destruction of the city’s treasures.
When the Islamic State jihadists first seized Palmyra in May 2015, they issued a public statement assuring the world they would not touch the city’s artifacts. “Concerning the historic city, we will preserve it and it will not be harmed, God willing,” an Islamic State commander announced. He did note, however, that the city would be cleansed of its “idols that the infidels used to worship,” but “the historic buildings will not be touched.”
Ultimately much of the non-idolatrous material in Palmyra disappeared, however, with much of what was not destroyed appearing in the black market. The Islamic State, the government of Russia has estimated, makes about $200 million a year selling ancient artifacts it steals from the cities in Iraq and Syria it seizes. As the region is home to the world’s oldest known civilizations, it has not been difficult for the terrorists to find valuable materials in its museums.
During the Islamic State occupation, international historians accused the Islamic State of “cultural genocide” in the region, citing leaked images and video of the destruction of ancient artifacts there. Experts speaking to the House Financial Services Committee’s Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing noted an “unprecedented scale” of both destruction and looting to fund terrorism occurring at the site.
When Russian and Syrian forces, under the control of dictator Bashar al-Assad, conquered Palmyra once again in March, the archaeologists that descended to evaluate the damage found incalculable damage. “We collected everything we could. The fragments were spread around the whole museum among broken glass and furniture… It is a catastrophe,” Bartosz Markowski of the Polish Archaeological Center at the University of Warsaw told reporters.
In addition to archaeological damage, incoming troops uncovered a mass grave containing at least 45 bodies, many of them beheaded, and at least three of them children. The Islamic State also heavily booby-trapped the city, leaving at least 150 land mines scattered throughout historical areas meant to kill liberating troops.
Assad has demanded that the United Nations fund the reconstruction of Palmyra.