The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a field of rubble, another apparent victim of the Islamic State's relentless destruction of ancient cultural sites. Satellite photos obtained exclusively by the AP confirm the worst fears of church authorities and preservationists—St. Elijah's Monastery of Mosul has been completely wiped out. "A big part of tangible history has been destroyed," says a Chaldean Catholic pastor in Southfield, Mich., who attended Mass at the monastery almost six decades ago. The destruction of the 1,400-year-old monastery is a blow for US troops and advisers who served in Iraq and had tried to protect the site. Suzanne Bott, who spent more than two years restoring St. Elijah's as a US State Department cultural adviser in Iraq, teared up when the AP showed her the images.
"Oh no way. It's just razed completely," she said. Those who knew the monastery wondered about its fate after the extremists swept through in June 2014. At the request of the AP, satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe recently pulled a series of images of the same spot from its archive of pics taken globally every day. An analyst reviewed the pictures for AP and identified the date of destruction between Aug. 27 and Sept. 28, 2014. "They destroyed it completely," he says. "There's nothing to rebuild." 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. "I can't describe my sadness," the Rev. Paul Thabit Habib said from Irbil after seeing pictures of the decimation in his hometown. "Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled."