Islamic State militants on Sunday, August 23, blew up the temple of Baal Shamin, one of the most important sites in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, said Maamoun Abdul Karim, the country's antiquities chief.

The temple bombing would be the first time the insurgents, who control swathes of Syria and Iraq and captured Palmyra in May, damaged monumental Roman-era ruins.

Tourists walk in the historical city of Palmyra, May 13, 2010. Islamic State fighters in Syria entered the ancient ruins of Palmyra after taking complete control of the central city, throwing speculations that the group may destroy the historical sites and antiquities. | Source: Reuters

"Daesh [ISIS] placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple," Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's antiquities chief, told Agence France-Presse, using another name for the Islamic State. "The [temple's inner area] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed," Washington Post reported.

"We have said repeatedly the next phase would be one of terrorising people and when they have time they will begin destroying temples," Abdul Karim told Reuters.

"I am seeing Palmyra being destroyed in front of my eyes," he added. "God help us in the days to come."

Source: NBC News

A week ago, the militants beheaded Khaled Asaad, 82-year-old scholar who worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra, after detaining and interrogating him for over a month.

According to New York Times , the temple stood 'dozens of meters' away from a Roman amphitheater where the Islamic State held a mass execution, killing 25 prisoners, in a video released last month. The entire ancient city of Palmyra is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Before the city's capture by Islamic State, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern that the militants would destroy them.

A general view shows the historical city of Palmyra, October 28, 2007. | Source: Reuters

In June, Islamic State blew up two ancient shrines in Palmyra that were not part of its Roman-era structures but which the militants regarded as pagan and sacrilegious.

The militants were also beginning excavation for gold and giving licenses for illicit excavation of the city's treasures, Abdul Karim added.

Last month, the group demolished half a dozen ancient statues, smashing them with sledge hammers, and in June they blew up two historic tombs, the NYT report added.

(With inputs from Reuters)

Feature image source: Reuters