Fears ancient city used in The Exorcist could be destroyed by ISIS fighters after they take control of territory
- Hatra complex is Unesco world heritage site featuring 200ft-high temples
- Now stands in territory claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant
- There are fears stone statues within area could be destroyed by jihadists
- 20 Iraqi police officers were guarding area but left after it fell to militants
- Archaeological dig in 1973 horror film The Exorcist was filmed at Hatra
Islamic militants in Iraq have taken over an ancient city which featured in The Exorcist film, it has emerged.
The Hatra complex, a Unesco world heritage site which features 200ft-high temples, now stands in territory claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) group.
There are fears the stone statues within the area could be destroyed by jihadists, who have already demolished a statue of Iraqi musician and composer Othman al-Mousuli 70 miles away in Mosul.
Some 20 Iraqi police officers who had been guarding the ancient area in Hatra – which features at the start of the 1973 horror film – had left after it fell to Isis militants two weeks ago.
Hatra councillor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The guards all ran and left their weapons behind when they heard that the tribes and Isis were coming.
‘Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing.’
Last week, Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova warned that the violence will see Iraq’s cultural heritage looted and destroyed – just as it was several years ago in the country.
She said: ‘I call on all actors to refrain from any form of destruction of cultural heritage, including religious sites. Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people’s identity and history.
‘Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels’
Mohammed Abdallah Khozal, Hatra councillor
‘Their perpetrators must be held responsible for their acts. I urge Iraqi leaders and communities to safeguard their country’s cultural heritage. Unesco stands ready to assist the people of Iraq in this endeavour.’
The Exorcist’s first scene, filmed at Hatra, sees a priest at an archaeological dig find an ancient talisman belonging to Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu, which then goes to possess a girl.
The Oscar-winning movie, directed by William Friedkin and starring Max von Sydow, grossed £260million worldwide and is seen by many horror fans as the scariest film ever made.
ANCIENT CITY THAT U.S. TROOPS TRIED TO TURN INTO A FILM TOURISM SITE
Hatra’s life began in the 3rd century BC as an Assyrian settlement, before growing to become a fortress and trading centre. It withstood invasions by the Romans in 116 and 198 AD.
However, some architecture and inscriptions suggest there could have been a Roman occupation in 230 AD. Present-day remains date back to between the 1st century BC and 2nd century AD.
The site was known for its impressive fortifications, made of two walls separating a wide ditch. The outer wall is an earthen bank, while the inner wall is stone-based and has four fortified gates.
Impressive structure: The Hellenistic Temple of Mrn amid the remains of the ancient city of Hatra
The site was effectively closed to visitors under Saddam Hussein, but US forces who guarded the area after the dictator’s fall recognised its potential for tourism, reported the Telegraph.
This idea came by chance after a captain serving with the 2-320 Field Artillery Regiment watched a DVD of The Exorcist and realised the opening sequence had been filmed from his hotel window.
Troops trained up local guides for what they billed ‘The Exorcist Experience’ to attract tourists, but the growing insurgency in the country meant the tours never took place.