Isis ‘Blows up Temple Dating Back to 17AD’ in Palmyra

The Guardian, August 24, 2015

Islamic State blew up the ancient temple of Baal Shamin in the Unesco-listed Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities chief has said.

“Daesh placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin ... and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” said Maamoun Abdulkarim, using another name for Isis.

Isis, which controls swaths of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, captured Palmyra on 21 May, sparking international concern about the fate of the heritage site described by Unesco as of outstanding universal value. “The [inner area of the temple] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed,” said Abdulkarim.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the country’s civil war, confirmed the destruction of the temple.

Baal Shamin was built in 17AD and it was expanded under the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian in 130AD. Known as the Pearl of the Desert, Palmyra, which means City of Palms, is a well-preserved oasis 130 miles north-east of Damascus.

Its name first appeared on a tablet in the 19th century BC as a stopping point for caravans travelling on the Silk Road and between the Gulf and the Mediterranean. But it was during the Roman Empire – beginning in the first century BC and lasting another 400 years – that Palmyra rose to prominence.

Before the arrival of Christianity in the second century, Palmyra worshipped the trinity of the Babylonian god Bel, Yarhibol (the sun) and Aglibol (the moon).

“Our darkest predictions are unfortunately taking place,” said Abdulkarim. He said the jihadis carried out executions in Palmyra’s ancient theatre, destroyed the famous Lion of Al-lāt in July and transformed the museum into a prison and a courtroom.

Isis mined the ancient site in June before destroying the lion statue, a unique piece made of limestone that stood more than three metres high (10 feet) that stood outside a museum. Funerary busts were also destroyed.

Isis’s harsh version of Islam considers statues and grave markers to be idolatrous and the group has destroyed antiquities and heritage sites in territory under its control in Syria and Iraq.

The latest developments come just days after Isis jihadis beheaded the 82-year-old retired chief archaeologist of Palmyra. On Sunday, the family of Khaled al-Assaad said the jihadists had mutilated his body after killing him execution-style on Tuesday.