Another World Heritage Site at Risk as ISIS Takes Over Sabratha, Libya

PHOTO: The Roman theatre in Sabratha, Libya is one of the sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.Getty Images/DeAgostini
The Roman theatre in Sabratha, Libya is one of the sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

There are mounting concerns that ISIS could destroy another UNESCO World Heritage site -- this time in Libya.

ISIS fighters drove a caravan of trucks into the city of Sabratha following the arrest of two ISIS members, the English-language Libya Herald reported on Thursday. The city is home to one of the most well preserved Roman theaters in the world, among other archeological treasures.

Located on the northern coast of Africa, Sabratha was once the site of a bustling Phoenician trading post and was built up by the Romans during the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. Archaeological excavations uncovered a forum, baths, temples and fountains, in addition to colorful and well preserved mosaics and paintings inside stone ruins that run along Sabratha’s Mediterranean beaches.

In 1982, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage site.

ISIS militants outraged the world when it blew up and destroyed other UNESCO sites in Palmyra, Syria, and Nimurd, Iraq. Now, they may pose a threat to what is called one of the best archeological sites in an area known as the cradle of civilization.

ISIS has been known to destroy and loot cultural heritage sites as it views the artifacts as a form of idolatry -- but they also finance military activity by selling pieces of art and sculptures on the black market, according to experts.

Four years after the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has become a focal point in the fight against ISIS. A report issued by the United Nations warned that the terrorist group will only gain power in Libya because of the country’s political power vacuum. There are an estimated 3,000 ISIS fighters in Libya.

This Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Rome to encourage war torn Libya to accept a deal brokered by the United Nations to form a unified government and, hopefully aid in the fight against ISIS.