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ISIS Video Shows Extremists Destroying Artifacts

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And yet another video has now surfaced, this one appearing to show ISIS members smashing statues and sculptures at a museum in Mosul, a city the group controls in Iraq. The art world is condemning the destruction of these priceless antiquities. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The video shows militants shoving agent statues off their plinths and taking sledgehammers and drills to artifacts, some dating back to the 7th century B.C. Chipped and broken pieces litter the floor, believed to be part of the Mosul museum. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, captured Mosul in June. Thomas Campbell, the director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, says the Iraqi museum's collection is of huge historical significance.

THOMAS CAMPBELL: We understand who we are by understanding our past. And when you erase the past like this, you're doing a terrible disservice to, you know - this is our world heritage. It's horrifying.

NORTHAM: Campbell says the wholesale destruction is a calculated effort to provoke. William Webber, an antiquities specialist with the Lost Art Register in London, says ISIS uses antiquities to its own ends.

WILLIAM WEBBER: Anything that's pre-Islamic or doesn't really define their interpretations of Islam they look to either sell on to make money or destroy.

NORTHAM: This isn't the first time an Islamist group has destroyed symbols they view as idolatrous. Think of the enormous Buddhist statues blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But destroying antiquities removes an important source of funding for ISIS. The United Nations says the group is involved in the looting and smuggling of artifacts and has banned the illicit trade in relics as a way to choke off funding for ISIS. The video shows only the destruction of large objects, which could have been too heavy to move, says Webber.

WEBBER: I can well imagine the smaller pieces being sold and carried away, definitely, even if they're - the large sculptures are being vandalized.

NORTHAM: Webber says the only people who really know for sure why irreplaceable objects were destroyed are the people who did it. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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