The Islamic State “spared” some ancient ruins at Palmyra as part of a trap to blow up the antiquities after their liberation, scheming to kill hundreds of Syrian army troops and “erase” the treasures for all time, reports Franklin Lamb.
By Franklin Lamb
Something just didn’t feel quite right to Syrian army brass as they penciled in final plans to liberate the ancient city of Palmyra in early March 2016. They debated how best to drive the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) out of the city and into the surrounding unwelcoming desert. But some generals were puzzled.
“Why did Daesh not do even more damage at the ancient ruins, given their widely broadcast iconoclasm and their targeting as heresy ancient pre-Islamic sites,” one officer remembered asking his colleagues. The jihadists certainly had the means and a perverted Koranic motivation to destroy the whole area of ancient ruins but left much of it intact.
This puzzlement was widely held by Syrian officials and military strategists who increasingly wondered what was really going on as it became evident that the Islamic State’s military positions at Palmyra were untenable and ISIS forces faced certain defeat.
The drama of the Islamic State’s occupation of some of the world’s most valuable antiquities had begun eight months earlier. ISIS forces reached Palmyra on May 20, 2015, and in the following days, most of the local population fled by any means available. Many evacuated with the Syrian army as Syria’s Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) removed as many of Palmyra’s treasures as possible.
Led by Dr. Maamoun Abdul Karim – affectionately known as “Dr. Maamoun” in Syria – the DGAM’s staff worked indefatigably to preserve and protect as much of Palmyra’s cultural heritage as possible. Together with the Syrian army and local residents, the DGAM’s staff was able to protect more than 80 percent of the exhibits at Palmyra’s museum, including transporting a large truck full of antiquities…