UNESCO chief decries ‘cultural cleansing’ in Islamic State video

In this file image made from video posted on a social media account affiliated with the Islamic State group on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, militants take sledgehammers to an ancient artifact in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq. AP Photo/Social media

PARIS — The head of the U.N. cultural agency denounced the Islamic State group’s destruction of ancient statues and artifacts as “cultural cleansing” and a war crime that the world must punish.

Irina Bokova, director-general of Paris-based UNESCO, said she couldn’t finish watching an Islamic State video posted this week that shows men using sledgehammers to smash the Mesopotamian artworks in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul. She called the video “a real shock.”

Speaking to reporters Friday, Bokova announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods” that will meet in coming weeks.

She has also asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage.

WATCH ABOVE: Even as Iraq mourned the destruction of priceless artifacts by jihadists in Mosul, the national museum in Baghdad brought joy and pride to visitors as it opened its doors for the first time in 12 years.

The extremists who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria appear to be trying to cleanse the region of ideas they consider un-Islamic, including artworks, library books and relics.

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The Louvre Museum in Paris said in a statement that “This destruction marks a new stage in the violence and horror, because all of humanity’s memory is being targeted in this region that was the cradle of civilization, the written word, and history.”

“These collections, these monuments and invaluable remains survived through centuries to testify to human history,” it said. “Through these barbaric acts, we are attacking the whole reason for being of museums, a place of dialogue, knowledge and mutual understanding.”

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