Militants affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) have begun destroying ancient archaeological sites in Iraq in a move to rid its newly acquired territory from what it deems idolatry.
Iraqi officials from the northern city of Mosul told the Associated Press on Saturday that residents near Hatra reported hearing two large explosions in the morning hours followed by seeing bulldozers demolishing ancient historical sites.
Kurdish official Saeed Mamuzini told AP that ISIS started as early as Thursday to demolish the 2,000-year-old city.
Located 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Mosul, Hatra was the capital of the first Arab kingdom and served as a fortified city during the Parthian Empire. The city survived invasions by the Romans in AD 116 and 198. UNESCO named the city a world heritage site.
The city itself served as a major trading center of the ancient world. Spanning just 6 kilometers (4 miles) in circumference, more than 160 watchtowers served as protection. Within the heart of the city, a grand temple with a series of smaller temples still stand.
Hatra is not the first ancient city ISIS has set its sights upon to destroy. On Friday, ISIS looted artifacts from the 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud and then bulldozed the city to the ground. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the action “a war crime.”
Last week, militants looted the Mosul museum and smashed precious artifacts. In January, the group burned hundreds of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul University and Mosul Library.
Last year, ISIS destroyed the mosque that is believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah.
On Sunday, Ban called on the international community to halt the destructive actions of ISIS on Iraqi archaeological sites.
“The secretary-general urgently calls on the international community to swiftly put a stop to such heinous terrorist activity and to counter the illicit traffic in cultural artifacts,” Ban said in a statement.
“The deliberate destruction of our common cultural heritage constitutes a war crime,” he added.
Iraq’s tourism and antiquities minister, Adel Fahad al-Shershab, asked for “aerial support” in stopping ISIS.
“The sky is not in the hands of the Iraqis, the sky is not in our hands. Therefore, the international community must move with the means it has,” he told journalists in Baghdad.
When asked specifically in he wanted coalition airstrikes to protect ancient archaeological sites, Shershab responded: “What I request from the international community and the international coalition is to carry out air strikes against terrorism wherever it is found.”