Iraq and Syria’s cultural heritage face new threat from fanatics

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Fears grow that social media savvy Islamic State is exploiting monitors’ lists

The IraqCrisis listerv reported IS’s destruction earlier this month of the sepulcher of the Umayyad caliph Sulaymān ibn ʿAbd Al-Malik

The full extent of Islamic State (IS) iconoclasm remains uncertain as the militants dig in to consolidate the ground they have gained in northern Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, scholars in the West attempting to monitor destruction of cultural heritage by IS are increasingly concerned that social media sites recording the historic mosques, tombs and archaeological sites most at risk could be being monitored by the jihadist group, inadvertently becoming a useful tool for the extremists and their demolition squads.

“I’m quite conscious of the fact that I moderate a resource that is most likely being read by some of the people causing the destruction,” says Charles E. Jones from the IraqCrisis listerv, which was established by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Jones, now the Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, has been the moderator of the list for 11 years. He says that he is aware of calls from scholars to create lists of Shia shrines so that they can be monitored and protected, but he is concerned that “this information could fall into the wrong hands”. Jones tells The Art Newspaper: “IS seem to be very skilled at using social media in a way that has not been used before.”

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