Iraq's 'Exorcist' Temple falls into ISIS jihadist hands

  • strict warning: Only variables should be passed by reference in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 61.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1113.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_field::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_field.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of content_handler_field::element_type() should be compatible with views_handler_field::element_type($none_supported = false, $default_empty = false, $inline = false) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/cck/includes/views/handlers/content_handler_field.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::query() should be compatible with views_handler::query($group_by = false) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_query::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_query.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_style_default::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_style_default.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1113.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1113.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_field_user::init() should be compatible with views_handler_field::init(&$view, $options) in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/modules/user/views_handler_field_user.inc on line 0.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 1113.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be passed by reference in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 61.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be passed by reference in /home/abounaor/public_html/english/sites/all/modules/captcha/captcha.inc on line 61.

Iraq's 'Exorcist' Temple falls into ISIS jihadist hands

By Colin Freeman

An ancient temple made famous in the film The Exorcist has fallen into the hands of the Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq, the Telegraph has learnt.

The pre-Christian worship complex at Hatra, a vast network of 200-ft high sun-god temples that is a UNESCO world heritage site, features in the opening sequence of the 1973 horror classic.

But it now lies in the territory claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), prompting fears that its stone statues could be destroyed as idolatrous images by the militants.

Already, ISIS fighters in the city of Mosul, 70 miles north-west Hatra, have demolished a statue of Othman al-Mousuli, a 19th century Iraqi musician and composer, and the statue of Abu Tammam, an Abbasid-era Arab poet.

A councillor from the Hatra area told The Telegraph 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 dropped bombs on the militants less than a mile from the temple itself.

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

"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."

An oasis of pre-Christian civilisation 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 around the 3rd century BC, it is dedicated mainly to the sun god Shamash, whose statues and masks adorn its vast limestone and gypsum walls.

The Hatra temple is dedicated to the god Shamash, whose images adorn its walls. Director William Friedkin filmed in Hatra for the first scene in The Exorcist, in which a priest at an archaeology dig unearths an ancient talisman belonging to Pazuzu, an ancient Mesopotamian demon. A child bogeymen in Mesopotamian folklore, Pazuzu is said to be alerted whenever his talismans are disturbed or touched, and in The Exorcist he goes to possess a young American girl.

For most of the last 40 years, Hatra and its Hollywood connection have all but been forgotten. Under Saddam Hussein, the site was effectively closed to outside visitors, and since his fall, Iraq has been largely too dangerous for tourists.

But its potential as a tourist site was spotted by US troops from the 2-320 Field Artillery Regiment who guarded it after Saddam's fall, when they were billeted in a disused hotel nearby.

As The Telegraph reported back in 2003, they stumbled on its movie connection by chance, when a captain serving with the regiment watched The Exorcist on his DVD player and realised that the opening sequence, showing the sun rising over the temple's distinctive skyline, had been shot from his hotel window.

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

Since then, the only foreign visitors to the site have been a handful of archaeologists, while some of its more valuable artefacts have been removed for safekeeping in the Mosul and Baghdad museums.

Dr. Lamia Al Gailani Werr, a London-based archaeologist who works with the Iraqi national museum, told The Telegraph that she had heard from friends in Mosul that so far no harm had come to either Hatra or any of the other ancient sites around Mosul, which lies on the foundations of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

But last week, UNESCO issued an urgent warning that the sites were at risk.

There are fears that they could suffer the same fate as the ancient Buddha statues in the Afghan town of Bamyan, which were blown up by the Taliban.

The director general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said: "I call on all actors to refrain from any form of destruction of cultural heritage, including religious sites. Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people's identity and history."

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 14:28
Comment through the site Comment through facebook

Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.