Islamic State group militants have destroyed the ancient Baalshamin temple in the Syrian city of Palmyra, government officials and activists said Sunday. It was feared the site would be destroyed following the militant takeover of the city in May.
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, "placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baalshamin today and then blew it up, causing much damage to the temple," Syrian Antiquities Chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP news agency.
Abdulkarim said the site was destroyed Sunday, although activists with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents who have fled the town reported it happened about a month ago, according to BBC. The temple was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
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ISIS members have been filmed destroying pre-Islamic artifacts and monuments. The 81-year-old archeologist who had looked after Palmyra's ruins for decades was reportedly beheaded by the group last week for refusing to reveal were some of the ancient artifacts were hidden.
ISIS also destroyed two ancient Muslim mausoleums in Palmyra in June. A month later, militants used the city's ancient amphitheater as a site to kill 25 Syrian soldiers. A video of the mass execution was released by the group shortly after.
The Baalshamin temple dates back more than 2,000 years, and was dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and rain. It once sat in a residential area of the ancient city.
Palmyra, known as Tadmur in Arabic, is home to countless ancient artifacts and has been described by Unesco as "one of the most important cultural [centers] of the ancient world." It was once a major caravan hub, and until civil war broke out in Syria, was considered a significant tourist attraction.
ISIS, which has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the last year, has vowed to destroy ancient shrines that the group considers "un-Islamic" as it attempts to spread its self-proclaimed caliphate.