IS “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles,” the tourism and antiquities ministry said on an official Facebook page yesterday.
An Iraqi antiquities official confirmed the news, saying the destruction began after noon prayers yesterday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artefacts had also been spotted at the site.
“Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, was founded in the 13th century BC and lies on the Tigris River around 30 kilometres southeast of Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the IS group’s main hub in the country.
“I’m sorry to say everybody was expecting this. Their plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time,” said Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from New York’s Stony Brook University.
“Hatra of course will be next,” he said, referring to a beautifully preserved city in Nineveh province that is more than 2,000 years old and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The UN cultural body’s Iraq director, Axel Plathe, called Thursday’s reported destruction “another appalling attack on Iraq’s heritage.”
Nimrud is the site of what was described as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century when a team unearthed a collection of jewels and precious stones in 1988.
The jewels were briefly displayed at the Iraqi national museum before disappearing from public view. But they survived the looting that followed the 2003 US invasion and were eventually found in a Central Bank building.
Most of Nimrud’s priceless artefacts have long been moved to museums, in Mosul, Baghdad, Paris, London and elsewhere but giant “lamassu” statues — winged bulls with human heads — and reliefs were still on site.
The destruction at Nimrud came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing militants armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artefacts at the Mosul museum.
That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it with the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
UNESCO director general Irina Bokova demanded an emergency meeting of the Security Council and called for the International Criminal Court to look into the Mosul museum destruction.