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Iraqi jihadists seize 'Exorcist' temple at Hatra

An ancient temple that featured in the film The Exorcist has fallen into the hands of jihadists who have taken over northern Iraq.

Iraqi jihadists seize 'Exorcist' temple at Hatra
The pre-Christian complex at Hatra, a vast network of 70-metre sun-god temples 
that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence
 of The Exorcist [Credit: Victrav / WikiCommons]
The pre-Christian worship complex at Hatra, a vast network of 70-metre sun-god temples that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence of the 1973 horror classic.

It now lies in the territory claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), prompting fears that its stone statues could be destroyed as idolatrous images by the terrorists.

Already, ISIS fighters in the city of Mosul, 100 kilometres north-west of Hatra, have demolished a statue of Othman Al-Mousuli, a 19th-century Iraqi musician and composer, and a statue of Abu Tammam, an Abbasid-era Arab poet.

A councillor from the Hatra area said that the 20-strong squad of Iraqi policemen who had guarded the temple from looters had fled after the area fell to tribal militants and ISIS fighters a fortnight ago.

Locals say that since then, the area has been targeted by Iraqi warplanes that have bombed the jihadists less than a kilometre from the temple.

“The guards all ran and left their weapons behind when they heard that the tribes and ISIS were coming,” said Mohammed Abdallah Khozal, the councillor whose own son was killed in the fighting with the jihadists.

“Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing.”

Iraqi jihadists seize 'Exorcist' temple at Hatra
Arab foreigners visit the historic city of Hatra, 350 kilometres north of Baghdad in 2002.
 Iraq is packed with historical treasures from the era of Mesopotamia's Babylon and 
Ur to the Islamic age, whose glories include the golden-domed grand mosques of 
Najaf and Karbala, and ornate Abbasid dynasty palaces in Bagdad and Samarra 
[Credit: Suhaib Salem / Reuters]
An oasis of pre-Christian civilization in the middle of the desert that stretches toward Syria, Hatra’s columns and statues make it one of the most impressive of Iraq’s archaeological sites.

Dating back to about the 3rd century B.C., it is dedicated mainly to the sun god Shamash, whose statues and masks adorn its limestone and gypsum walls.

William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, filmed the first scene in Hatra in which a priest at an archaeology dig unearths a talisman belonging to Pazuzu, an ancient Mesopotamian demon.

Its potential as a tourist site was spotted in 2003 by U.S. troops from the 2-320 Field Artillery Regiment who guarded it after Saddam Hussein’s fall, when they were billeted in a disused hotel nearby.

They stumbled on its film connection by chance, when a captain serving with the regiment watched The Exorcist on his DVD player and realized that the opening sequence, showing the sun rising over the temple’s skyline, had been shot from his hotel window.

The troops then trained up local guides, hoping what they called “The Exorcist Experience” would help to attract tourists. But Iraq’s growing insurgency meant the scheme never came to fruition.

Author: Colin Freeman | Source: The Telegraph [June 25, 2014]

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