- Alleged antiquities smuggler lashed by ISIS in Syrian square
- World cultural leaders decry militants' destruction of artifacts
A man smuggling at least six ancient statues through Aleppo province was captured by jihadis and transferred to a self-proclaimed Islamic court in the ISIS-controlled city of Manbij, a Thursday release on the group's social media sites read.
Militants shattered the relics with sledgehammers and lashed the smuggler in a public square packed with onlookers after the court ruled the centuries-old objects violated ISIS' radical interpretation of Islam.
In Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back 2,000 years, ISIS allegedly destroyed the Allat God statue on Thursday, a significant ancient object depicting a lion catching a deer between its feet.
"ISIS terrorists have destroyed one of the most important unearthed statues in Syria in terms of quality and weight ... it was discovered in 1977 and dates back to the second century A.D.," Ma'moun Abdul-Karim, director of museums and antiquities, told state-run SANA news agency on Thursday.
The U.N. cultural organization Wednesday accused the self-proclaimed Islamic State of "cultural cleansing" as part of a global propaganda campaign to recruit foreign fighters and dismantle the fabric of societies in the Middle East.
"Violent extremists don't destroy heritage as a collateral damage, they target systematically monuments and sites to strike societies at their core," Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said
at London's Chatham House.
ISIS' acts of cultural vandalism on the world wonder began when the group wrested control of Palmyra from government forces in May.
The oasis city is known as the "bride of the desert" for its exquisite collection of ruins along a historical trade route that once linked Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire.
At least two ancient Muslim shrines in the once-monumental city were blown up
by ISIS last month, weeks after it bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and took sledgehammers to statues at the Mosul Museum.
"We see today that heritage and culture comes sometimes into the forefront of conflict," Bokova told the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London on Thursday.
"The deliberate destruction, what we are seeing today in Iraq and Syria, has reached unprecedented levels in contemporary history."