al-Qaeda plan to destroy ancient Iraqi sites foiled

Iraqi authorities recently uncovered an al-Qaeda plan that sought to destroy ancient Mesopotamian archaeological sites and artefacts under the pretext they are idolatrous and rejected by Islam, officials told Mawtani. 

al-Qaeda plan to destroy ancient sites foiled
An Iraqi soldier stands guard at the archaeological site of Madain, south of Baghdad [Credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]
"Security forces from the interior ministry and the national intelligence service uncovered a large-scale al-Qaeda plan targeting extremely important archaeological sites," said Col. Hikmat Mahmoud al-Masari, director of media and communications at the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

The plan targeted statues, monuments and citadels dating back to civilisations that once flourished in Iraq, including the Babylonian, Assyrian, Sumerian and Acadian civilisations, he said.

"Police arrested nine al-Qaeda gunmen in the areas of Jurf al-Sakher, Kut, Hilla and Baghdad who were planning to carry out those attacks," he told Mawtani.

During initial interrogations, one of the gunmen confessed "details about the terrorist plans", al-Masari said. "Security services are on the hunt for 16 other gunmen involved in the same plans."

According to Lt. Col. Jihad al-Qaisi from the ministry's facilities protection unit, "The nine detainees admitted they planned to blow up the archaeological sites, all on the same day."

Security forces found many explosives in the detainees' possession, hidden in homes and commercial buildings the gunmen had been using in recent days, he added.

"Security forces also found cash, which was to be used to bribe residents whose homes are located near these sites, so as to facilitate the transport of the explosives," he said.

A new plan to protect archaeological sites

In the light of the discovery of the al-Qaeda scheme, the ministry prepared a new plan to protect 12 ancient sites around the country.

Ninawa police spokesperson Col. Khalid al-Hamdani told Mawtani this plan includes building a fence and watch towers around those sites, as well as allowing vehicles to enter the area only after they are thoroughly searched with special devices and by trained dogs.

Officials will also install high technology security systems to ensure that pieces strewn around the sites cannot be stolen, he added.

Delair Hassan, deputy chairman of the Diyala provincial council's defence and security committee, told Mawtani, "Al-Qaeda recently issued a fatwa calling for attacks on archaeological sites in Iraq on the pretext these sites belong to infidels and devils and depict forbidden representations."

"The fatwa is clear evidence of al-Qaeda's premeditation in targeting archaeological sites in Diyala and other provinces under flimsy pretexts and justifications," Hassan said.

The fatwa "aims to wipe out the civil and humanitarian heritage of Iraq's civilisation", he added.

He called on the government to "intensify its efforts to protect these sites, and prevent al-Qaeda from committing a new crime of a different kind -- targeting the country's heritage and history, which has expressed Iraqi unity for thousands of years".

'Bankruptcy of al-Qaeda'

Iraqi archaeology expert Waleed al-Taie told Mawtani, "al-Qaeda's attempt to wipe out Iraqi historical sites reminds us of the extremists who destroyed the historical ruins in Afghanistan and other countries."

"The ruins of Babylon, Sumer, Acadia, Assyria and Ur remind Iraqis of the grandeur of their country, which goes back thousands of years, and this is something the murderous terrorists do not like," he said.

"This scheme is evidence of their bankruptcy and their inability to do anything, which makes them think of new ways to destroy the country," he said. 

Author: Mohammad al-Qaisi | Source: Mawtani al-Shorfa [November 28, 2012]

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