MOSUL, Iraq (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — When militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria invaded the Central Library of Mosul in January, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people’s ideas.
Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books into six pickup trucks.
Extremely rare manuscripts and texts were among the books taken — some dating back 800 years, according to the Fiscal Times.
The militants left only Islamic texts.
“These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned,” a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press at the time.
Now, the report by the Fiscal Times and similar accounts from other Iraqi media suggest ISIS has been making good on its promise.
According to the Times, some prominent figures in the ISIS-held city tried to persuade the militants to spare the books, but failed.
Iraqi media outlets have cited locals in the sprawling city as saying the militants have been holding public book burnings in the streets.
There has been no photographic evidence, thus far, to support the claims, but ISIS has a long history of destroying artifacts and other pieces of history deemed un-Islamic.
One interesting variation on the looting-to-burn theory came from an article published on Feb. 2, by the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi.
The article quoted a book seller in Baghdad, who said fellow book shop owners in Mosul had told him ISIS fighters were burning books on the streets, but that the group was only burning “normal” books.
The real motivation behind ISIS attack on the Central Library of Mosul, and many other schools and universities in their territory, could have been to find the rare manuscripts, that date back in some cases to the Ottoman Empire, to sell them on the black market.
For now, given that ISIS controls Mosul completely — though they may be challenged on that front in the coming months — and there has been no convincing evidence of exactly what is going on in the city, the fate of the invaluable old texts remains a mystery.
A U.S. military official told CBS News that up to 25,000 Iraqi forces will launch an assault against ISIS in Mosul this spring.
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