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Taliban launch tank, rocket attacks on Buddha statues

KABUL (March 2, 2001): Afghanistan's ancient Buddha statues in central Bamiyan province are under a barrage of rocket and tank shells from the ruling Taliban militia, official and opposition sources said Friday. They said Taliban fighters started attacking the two giant stone Buddhas, dating back almost 2,000 years, with rockets, tank shells and even automatic rifles.

"They have started attacking the Buddhas with guns and tank shells -- with whatever arms they are carrying," a militia source said, declining to be named. "People are firing at them out of their own sentiments."

Ignoring international protests, fanatical Taliban soldiers on Thursday started destroying all statues throughout the country in compliance with a decree issued on Monday by their Supreme Leader Mulla Mohammad Omar.

Omar said the decision was in line with a fatwa from local Islamic clerics designed to prevent the worshipping of "false idols."

Minister of Information and Culture Qudratullah Jamal said historic statues in the Kabul museum and elsewhere in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar were also being destroyed.

Opposition official Mohammad Bahram, speaking from the western mountains of Bamiyan which are controlled by anti-Taliban groups, confirmed the attack on the Buddhas.

"We have also heard reports that the they are attacking them with rockets and tank shells," he said.

The Afghan Islamic Press news agency said on Friday in a report monitored in Islamabad that Taliban militia had also gathered explosives around the two ancient Buddha statues in order to blow them up.

The most famous of Afghanistan's statues are the two Buddhas carved into a sandstone mountain in central Bamiyan province.

Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhism before Islamic armies came 14 centuries ago. The largest of the two is the biggest standing Buddha in the world at 165 feet tall.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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