By Richard Spencer, Middle East Editor video source ITN
4:50PM GMT 26 Feb 2015
Statues were destroyed by Isil militants with sledghammers and drills in the ancient Assyrian capital as part of a continuing assault on “idolatry”
Isil jihadists have filmed themselves smashing up the contents of a museum on the historic site of Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian empire, in their latest assault on “idolatry”.
In the video posted online, men can be seen tearing down statues from their plinths. Those that do not shatter on impact are broken apart with sledge-hammers and electric drills.
Among the artefacts destroyed was one of the giant marble winged bulls that formed part of the entrance gates to the city, similar to those on display at the British Museum.
Militant smashes statue with sledgehammer. Credit: ITN
That is still on site, at the Nergal Gate. Inside the museum, standing statues from the city of Hatra were also attacked, though experts were trying to verify whether they were originals or plaster casts.
Many of the other items were clearly copies, but the attack has nevertheless been compared to the destruction of the celebrated standing Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001.
The video has an introduction read out by a bearded man justifying the attack, saying: “O Muslims, these artefacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago, instead of Allah.
“The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices.”
The destruction then follows, set to the music of Islamic chanting. At the end, the camera sweeps across the rubble-strewn floor of the museum.
Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire in the seventh century BC, lies opposite Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which fell to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its sweep through Iraq last June. The local Assyrian population, which is largely Christian, was forced to flee into Kurdistan and beyond.
The attack on the greatest symbol of Assyrian history may be connected to the fight between Isil and a Christian militia, the MFS, which has joined forces with the Kurdish YPG to fight the jihadists in nearby parts of Syria.
However, Isil had already destroyed a number of ancient sites, including the tomb in Mosul of the Prophet Jonah, who is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
They also killed and decapitated the head of security at Ninevah, and abducted several male family members at his funeral.
The attack came a few days after the jihadists broke into Mosul’s main library and that of Mosul University, in the latter case burning hundreds of historic texts.
The plaster casts destroyed are of statues that remain on the site itself, or are scattered across the world in museums elsewhere.
Jihadists online described their approval of the attack, comparing it to a traditional story of the childhood of the Prophet Abraham. In the story, the young Abraham smashes up the contents of the shop run by his father, who makes idols.
Eleanor Robson, head of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, said she was only surprised that Isil had waited so long.
“I’m really sad for the people of Mosul,” she said. “It’s like someone taking sledge-hammers to Stonehenge, or Westminster Abbey.
“It’s another way for Isil to undermine their community, sense of belonging, optimism hope.” She said the group might have been reacting to recent losses in Iraq, with the Iraqi army, local militias and their backers including the western coalition talking of an assault on Mosul later this year.
“They are wanting to draw attention,” she said. “It’s the cultural equivalent of those awful beheading videos.” Mark Altwaweel, another UK-based archaeologist whose family are originally Iraqi Christians from Mosul, said the destruction was a symbolic attack on the past.
“It’s like Year Zero – trying to forget what we were in the last 3,000 years,” he said.