Satellite pictures suggest oldest Christian monastery in Iraq razed to ground

Posted at 10:57 AM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 10:57:33-05

A 1,400 year-old Christian monastery — the oldest in Iraq – was “razed to the ground” just months after ISIS took over the Iraqi city of Mosul, satellite pictures show.

The Saint Elijah monastery — also known as Dair Mar Elia — was located on the outskirts of Mosul. Despite its age, it’s unlikely the monastery collapsed naturally, according to experts at AllSource Analysis, an imagery intelligence company which studied the photos.

Several factors suggest the demolition was deliberate, the experts said.

First, when comparing before and after images of the site in 2014, there’s evidence that indicates the structure was “pulverized” and reduced to “pretty well dust,” AllSource said.

Second, satellite imagery shows parallel white lines thought to be vehicle tracks indicative of a bulldozer having come into the area.

Third, the timing could point to ISIS as the culprit, AllSource said.

Mosul fell to ISIS in June, 2014. Analysis of the imagery pinpoints the destruction of the monastery as happening in either late August or September of 2014 — just a few short months later.

Not the first time

While ISIS has not publicly announced destroying the monastery, it wouldn’t be the first time the terror group has targeted historic sites.

In August, the Islamic extremist group blew up a nearly 2,000-year-old temple in the historic ruins of Palmyra in neighboring Syria.

ISIS considers all religious shrines — Islamic, Christian, Jewish, etc. — idolatrous.

“[ISIS] doesn’t care if you’re Christian, Muslim or Turkoman or anything, because this is a brutal group that is going after anybody who does not line up specifically with them,” said Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military operation against ISIS.

Duraid Hikmat Tobia, who used to be the minority affairs advisor to Mosul governor, told CNN that he has not heard from relatives or friends in the area about the fate of the monastery.

‘This will never be replaced’

The Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, who once led the Chaldean Catholic Church in Mosul, said he was heartbroken at the religious and historical loss after looking at the satellite pictures.

Habib now oversees a congregation of thousands of internally displaced Chaldean Christians who fled Mosul and relocated to Erbil and the surrounding areas. “We see these historical sites destroyed on daily basis,” he said.

“This is a big loss. This will never be replaced… it goes back to the 6th century. We are talking about history of civilization being wiped out.”