ISIS fighters have destroyed two ancient Muslim shrines in the oasis city of Palmyra, the Syrian government confirmed Wednesday, the latest act of cultural vandalism by the Sunni extremists.
ISIS seized control of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 2,000 years, last month, prompting fears for the site’s survival.
An email sent on behalf of Syria’s antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums, said the body had heard four days ago from people in Palmyra of the shrines’ destruction.
“ISIS has blown up two ancient Muslim shrines in Palmyra, and has published photos of this awful crime against the Syrian cultural heritage on Facebook,” the statement said.
One of the tombs destroyed is that of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendent of Ali bin Abi Taleb, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, the DGAM said. It’s located in a hilly area 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) north of Palmyra.
“ISIS militants also blew up the shrine of Shagaf, known as Abu Behaeddine, a religious figure from Palmyra, dated to 500 years ago. The shrine is located in the oasis 500 meters away from the Ancient City’s Arch of Triumph,” the statement said.
Images posted on the DGAM website show dust and debris flying into the air as the shrines are destroyed.
ISIS’ capture of Palmyra was followed by the summary executions of scores of captive fighters and residents, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group.
The group also reported Tuesday that ISIS had destroyed a shrine in the Palmyra area, but it wasn’t clear if it was one of those named by the government. ISIS blew it up on the pretext of “removing the landmarks of polytheism,” the monitoring group said.