ISIS Suicide Bombers Hit Iraq's Samarra

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Published Saturday, February 28, 2015

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suicide bombers and fighters struck targets on Saturday in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, where security forces and their militia allies have been gathering for an offensive against the jihadist militants.

The attacks came as a British news outlet reported that ancient artifacts allegedly destroyed by ISIS fighters might in fact have been plaster copies.

Security sources and residents said the attack on Samarra was launched at 5:30 am when two ISIS suicide bombers blew up their cars in the northern area of Sur Shnas.

At the same time a man drove a Humvee rigged with explosives into the south of the city and detonated it, while ISIS fighters attacked security forces to the west with sniper fire, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.

Thousands of troops and fighters from militias known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) have gathered around Samarra for a campaign to drive ISIS out of nearby strongholds on the Tigris River, including the city of Tikrit 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the north.

Medical sources said Samarra hospital had received the bodies of three Hashid Shaabi fighters, and was treating six wounded people.

Residents reported seeing black smoke over parts of the city and hearing powerful explosions, as clashes continued.

In the town of Ishaaqi, about 20 kilometer (10 miles) southeast of Samarra, snipers shot dead two Hashid Shaabi men as they tried to set up a sand barrier on the main highway linking Samarra to the capital Baghdad.

Archeologists put into question ISIS destruction of artifacts

Meanwhile, British Channel 4 News reported on Thursday that at least several statues shown in a video depicting ISIS militants destroying ancient artifacts were in fact copies.

On Thursday, ISIS released a video in which its militants were seen smashing ancient statues and attacking artifacts to pieces with sledgehammers in the main museum in Mosul, saying they were symbols of idolatry.

But Channel 4 quoted archeologist Mark al-Taweel of the Institute of Archaeology at University College in London as saying that several of the statues shown in the video weren’t the originals.

"You can see iron bars inside," he said. "The originals don't have iron bars."

The director of the United Nations' cultural agency's (UNESCO) Iraq office, Axel Plathe, would not comment on the content of the video on Thursday, saying it has yet to be verified.

Eleanor Robson, the chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, also told Channel 4 that the majority of original statues had been taken to Baghdad as a safety precaution.

However, it has been confirmed that a large Assyrian winged bull seen being defaced with a jackhammer was an original artifact thought to date back to the 7th century BC.

UNESCO chief Irina Bokova has demanded an emergency meeting of UN Security Council over the destruction of the statues, calling the attack a “cultural tragedy” and a “security issue” which “fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq."

In September, officials said that ISIS militants were using intermediaries to sell priceless treasures, such as ancient Iraqi artifacts, on the black market to finance their activities.

The militants gained some experience of dealing in antiquities after taking control of large parts of Syria, but when they captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the Nineveh province in June, they gained access to almost 2,000 of Iraq's 12,000 registered archeological sites.

ISIS deems other faiths, as well as Muslims who do not espouse their strict Salafi interpretation of Islam, to be heretics. Its fighters have destroyed Shia and Sufi religious sites and attacked churches, tombs and shrines and burned precious manuscripts and archives in the parts of Syria and Iraq under their control.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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