The Islamic State (ISIS) group began bulldozing the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq on Thursday, the government said, in the jihadists' latest attack on the country's historical heritage.
ISIS "assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles," the tourism and antiquities ministry said on an official Facebook page and was quoted by AFP.
An Iraqi antiquities official confirmed the news, saying the destruction began after noon prayers on Thursday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artifacts had also been spotted at the site.
"Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century BC, lies on the Tigris around 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, Iraq's second city and the main hub of IS in the country.
The destruction at Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing its members armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artifacts at the Mosul museum.
That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it to the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
According to ISIS’s extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols and shrines are a corruption of the purity of the early Muslim faith.
The group spearheaded a sweeping offensive last June that overran Nineveh province, where Mosul and Nimrud are located, and swept through much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland.
Iraqi security forces and allied fighters are battling to regain ground from the jihadists with backing from an international anti-ISIS coalition as well as neighboring Iran.
Major operations to drive ISIS out of Nineveh are likely months away, however, leaving the province's irreplaceable historical sites at the mercy of the group’s terrorists who have no regard for Iraq's past.