IS destroys ancient Muslim mausoleums in Syria’s Palmyra
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IS destroys ancient Muslim mausoleums in Syria’s Palmyra

Deeming venerated tombs ‘a return to paganism,’ jihadists blow them up, reportedly lay mines throughout ancient ruins

Syrians walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra on March 14, 2014. (AFP/Joseph Eid)
Syrians walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra on March 14, 2014. (AFP/Joseph Eid)

Islamic State fighters have destroyed two ancient Muslim mausoleums in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra, also known as Tadmur, the country’s antiquities director said Tuesday.

Maamoun Abdulkarim said IS jihadists blew up the tombs of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, and Nizar Abu Bahaaeddine, a religious figure from Palmyra, three days ago.

Bin Ali’s burial place is located in a mountainous region four kilometres (almost three miles) north of Palmyra, in central Syria.

Photos published by IS depicted two armed men carrying cannisters, apparently filled with explosives, walking up the rocky hill to the site.

Abu Bahaaeddine’s tomb, nestled in a leafy oasis about 500 meters from Palmyra’s ancient ruins, is said to be more than five centuries old.

Syrian soldiers get in position during clashes with Islamic State jihadists in northeastern Palmyra on May 17, 2015. (AFP/STR)
Syrian soldiers get in position during clashes with Islamic State jihadists in northeastern Palmyra on May 17, 2015. (AFP/STR)

IS has destroyed at least 50 mausoleums dating between 100-200 years old in the regions under its control in north and east Syria, the antiquities director said.

“They consider these Islamic mausoleums to be against their beliefs, and they ban all visits to these sites,” Abulkarim said.

“In all the areas where they spread, when they see tombs they destroy them, as [they] see them as sacrilegious and a return to paganism,” Abulkarim added, according to Reuters.

Ten days ago, fighters from the jihadist group also destroyed a number of tombstones at a cemetery for Palmyra residents, Abulkarim told AFP.

A view of the ruins of Palmyra, Syria, with what appears to be an Islamic State fighter walking through the city's ancient theater in a video released by the Islamic State's propaganda arm on May 27, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
A view of the ruins of Palmyra, Syria, with what appears to be an Islamic State fighter walking through the city’s ancient theater in a video released by the Islamic State’s propaganda arm on May 27, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

“All tombs with marble designs were destroyed. For them, graves should not be visible,” he said.

The Syrian government has moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations to avoid their falling into the hands of Islamic State, Abulkarim told Reuters.

Many of the shrines destroyed by IS belonged to the Sufi sect, a mystical school of Islam despised by the Salafis who make up Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups.

IS captured Palmyra, a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site, from pro-government forces on May 21.

At the weekend, IS fighters mined the city’s ancient site, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, renewing fears that they would demolish the famed ruins as they have other historic sites in Iraq and Syria.

Syria’s army has advanced in recent days west of the city, near key oil and gas fields.

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