Paris: Islamic State jihadists occupying parts of Iraq are destroying age-old heritage sites and looting others to sell valued artefacts on the black market, experts gathered at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters warned, reports AFP.

The extremist group has destroyed shrines, churches and precious manuscripts in Mosul, Tikrit and other areas of Iraq it controls and excavated sites to sell objects abroad, in what UNESCO chief Irina Bokova described as “cultural cleansing”.

In July, for instance, IS rigged the Nabi Yunus shrine in the northern city of Mosul – revered by both Muslims and Christians as the tomb of Prophet Jonah – with explosives and blew it up. The radical group advocates an brutal and strict interpretation of Islam, and considers worshipping at graves to be tantamount to idolatry. “There were explosions that destroyed buildings dating back to the Assyrian era,” Baghdad museum director Qais Rashid said according to a translation from Arabic into English, referring to the once powerful, ancient empire.  “Assyrian tablets were stolen and were suddenly found in European cities,” he added, warning that the sale of suchartefacts was being used to “finance terrorism”.

“There are international mafias… that inform Daesh of what can be sold,” he said, referring to an alternative name for IS.Rashid acknowledged that nothing could yet be done to prevent further destruction and looting in IS-controlled territory. “We have to wait and do everything to retake it,” he said.

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