Syria: ISIS destroys ancient Muslim shrines in Palmyra
(CNN)ISIS fighters have destroyed two ancient Muslim shrines in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, the Syrian government confirmed Wednesday, in the latest act of cultural vandalism by the Sunni extremists.
ISIS seized control of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 2,000 years, last month, prompting fears for the site's survival.
An email sent on behalf of Syria's antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Directorate-General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), said the body had heard four days ago from people in Palmyra of the shrines' destruction.
"ISIS has blown up two ancient Muslim shrines in Palmyra, and has published photos of this awful crime against the Syrian cultural heritage on Facebook," the statement said.
One of the tombs destroyed is that of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendent of Ali bin Abi Taleb, the Prophet Mohammed's cousin, the DGAM said. It's located in a hilly area 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) north of Palmyra.
"ISIS militants also blew up the shrine of Shagaf, known as Abu Behaeddine, a religious figure from Palmyra, dated to 500 years ago. The shrine is located in the oasis 500 meters away from the Ancient City's Arch of Triumph," the statement said.
Images posted on the DGAM website show dust and debris flying into the air as the shrines are destroyed.
ISIS' capture of Palmyra was followed by the summary executions of scores of captive fighters and residents, according to the London-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Palmyra, also known as the "bride of the desert," is an exquisite collection of ruins in the desert northeast of Damascus that was once a monumental city sitting on an important trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire.
Its history as an important caravan city at the crossroads of ancient civilizations is reflected in the eclectic mix of architectural styles found among its colonnades and temples.
British historian and novelist Tom Holland describes the site as "an extraordinary fusion of classical and Iranian influences intermixed with various Arab influence as well."
Destruction of Palmyra wouldn't just be a tragedy for Syria, it would be a loss for the entire world, he told CNN last month.
"This isn't just about Middle Eastern history, these are the wellsprings of the entire global culture. Mesopotamia, Iraq, Syria, this is the wellspring of global civilization. It really couldn't be higher stakes in terms of conservation."
CNN's Ruth Hetherington and Mairi Mackay contributed to this report.