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IS 'destroying ancient Iraq city'

Islamic State militants group have begun demolishing the ancient archaeological site of Hatra in northern Iraq, Iraqi officials say.

Residents living near Hatra heard two large explosions on Saturday, then reported seeing bulldozers begin demolishing the site, said an official in Mosul who asked not to be named.

Saeed Mamuzini, a Kurdish official from Mosul, told the Associated Press that the militants had begun carrying away artefacts from Hatra as early as Thursday and on Saturday began to destroy the 2,000-year-old city.

Hatra, 110 kilometres (68 miles) south-west of the city of Mosul, was a large fortified city during the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab kingdom. The ancient city, a Unesco world heritage site, is said to have withstood invasions by the Romans in AD 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers.

The ancient trading centre in Hatra spanned six kms (four miles) in circumference and was supported by more than 160 towers. At its heart are a series of temples with a grand temple at the centre - a structure supported by columns that once rose to 100 feet.

The Sunni extremist group has been campaigning to purge ancient relics they say promote idolatry that violates their fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law. A video they released last week shows them smashing artefacts in the Mosul museum and in January, the group burned hundreds of books from the Mosul library and Mosul University, including many rare manuscripts.

The majority of the artefacts destroyed in the Mosul Museum attack were from Hatra.

On Friday, the group looted artefacts from Nimrud, a 3,000-year-old city in Iraq, and bulldozed it in a move United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared "a war crime".

Iraqi Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab said on Saturday that many feared Hatra would suffer the same fate as Nimrud. "This is not unusual (behaviour) for Daesh," Mr Shirshab said, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

A statement on the ministry's Facebook page said the government is investigating reports of the attack on Hatra, noting that the global community should speed up its response to the crisis in Iraq to prevent these types of atrocities.

Last year, the militants destroyed the mosque believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Younis, or Jonah, as well as the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis - both revered ancient shrines in Mosul. They also threatened to destroy Mosul's 850-year old Crooked Minaret, but residents surrounded the structure, preventing the militants from approaching.

A US-led coalition has been striking the Islamic State group since August and is preparing a large-scale operation to retake the city of Mosul.

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