Ancient site destroyed by ISIS in Mosul (illustration)
Ancient site destroyed by ISIS in Mosul (illustration)Reuters

Satellite photos on Wednesday confirmed the reports of activists from last August, revealing that Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists have demolished the nearly 1,500-year-old St. Elijah's Monastery near Mosul to rubble.

Associated Press asked satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe this month to photograph St. Elijah's, the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, and then compare the images with previous pictures from the same site.

The results, published by AP on Wednesday, reveal the monastery has indeed suffered the same fate as hundreds of ancient sites in Iraq and Syria, having been destroyed by ISIS jihadists.

Imagery from last August showed the 27,000-square-foot building of stone and mortar overlooking Mosul, with 26 rooms including a sanctuary and chapel.

A comparison with imagery from last September, a month later, reveals "that the stone walls have been literally pulverized," said analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis.

"Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely," added Wood.

St. Elijah's was built in 590 CE; back in 1743 CE, around 150 monks refused to convert to Islam and were massacred by a Persian general at the site.

The site was damaged in 2003 when a tank turret that was blown off in the middle of nearby fighting smashed a wall, and Iraqi troops dumped garbage in the monastery. Then the US Army's 101st Airborne Division took over the site, but defaced ancient murals by painting their logo on the walls.

Afterwards a US military chaplain recognized the importance of the site, and he started an initiative to preserve it - but then ISIS took over the region.

Catholic priest Reverend Paul Thabit Habib, currently living in exile in Erbil, Iraq, reacted with shock to the photos.

"Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled," he said. "We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."

That response was echoed by Roman Catholic US Army chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, who previously conducted Mass at the monastery.

"Why we treat each other like this is beyond me. Elijah the prophet must be weeping," he said, citing the Jewish prophet appropriated in the name of the monastery.

ISIS and other jihadists in Iraq and Syria have been responsible for the destruction of numerous ancient sites, including the shrines of Jewish Biblical prophets; ISIS turned Jonah's tomb into a "fun park" in Mosul last June. Likewise Ezra's tomb has been turned into a mosque.