Militants' razing of monastery is condemned

St. Elijah's monastery once stood on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. The 1,400-year-old site has been destroyed by the Islamic State.

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The Obama administration and the Vatican condemned the Islamic State on Wednesday for razing Iraq's oldest Christian monastery, a 1,400-year-old structure that had survived assaults by nature and man for centuries.

At the United Nations, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said that reducing St. Elijah's monastery in Mosul to a field of rubble was malicious and misguided. The Associated Press confirmed the monastery's destruction Wednesday.

"Despite their relentless crimes, extremists will never be able to erase history," said Bokova, who called the demolition a war crime. "It also reminds us how terrified by history the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance."

St. Elijah's monastery on the outskirts of Mosul was a place of worship recently for U.S. troops, who worked to restore it.

In earlier centuries, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches and prayed in the cool chapel. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ's name, were carved near the entrance.

During a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Obama administration condemned the destruction by the Islamic State.

"They continue to carry out these kinds of depraved acts, and it really symbolizes or exemplifies their bankrupt ideology," he said.

The Islamic State, which broke from al-Qaida and now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of civilians and forced out hundreds of thousands of Christians, threatening a religion that has endured in the region for 2,000 years.

Along the way, its fighters have destroyed buildings and ruined historical and culturally significant structures they consider contrary to their interpretation of Islam.

St. Elijah's has joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq. The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed — or trafficked.

At the Vatican, spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that since the monastery dates to the time Christians were united, the place would be a special one for many.


The Obama administration has granted the military new authority to strike the Islamic State in Afghanistan. A defense official said the new rules permit U.S. commanders in Afghanistan to launch airstrikes against militants affiliated with the Islamic State. Under previous rules, the U.S. military was able to conduct airstrikes in Afghanistan in three circumstances: to protect foreign forces; to help Afghan troops ward off an enemy onslaught; and to target al-Qaida.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter won agreement from defense ministers from France and five other nations to intensify the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

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