The Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab [may have] been destroyed (Sinjar, Iraq, 3rd August 2014) [but there is no evidence]

Mark @markito0171, who reported the destruction of the Tomb of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus correctly, provided perhaps the first English-language report: ‘#Iraq’i TV: #IslamicState blow up “Sayeda Zeinab shrine” in #Sinjar west of #Mosul.’ But no more reliable information, only definitely fake evidence, has emerged since then. [Immediate update: the site has been destroyed. Following update (13th August 2014): alleged TV footage does not show the Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab; there is still no evidence that the shrine has been destroyed.]

Reports without evidence

A “security source” told the utterly unreliable Iraqi News: ‘The ISIL terrorists detonated the holy shrines [sic] with the Improvised Explosive Devices.’ (The plural shrines may be due to reports that the Shrine of Yezidi Sheikh Sharfaddin has been destroyed.) Similarly, a “source” told (Faili Kurdish) Shafaq News: ‘Elements of ISIS blew up Sayeda Zeinab shrine.’

The quite reliable (Kurdish) Rudaw (@RudawEnglish) has reported it: ‘ISIS militants destroy “Sayeda Zeinab shrine” in #Sinjar west of #Mosul’ – but Rudaw, which has published other photos from Sinjar, including Yezidis’ families’ flight into the mountains of Sinjar to evade Islamic State rule, has not published any photos of the ruins of the shrine-mosque. Shia News (@snpak110) reported later, but provided no more information.

(Up to 200,000 [certainly, many thousands of] people have fled the city, including thousands who had already been displaced from other Caliphate-controlled territory. [Update (4th August 2014): according to , Issa clan chief Khalaf Elias, 50 Yezidi families, 2,000 internally displaced persons, were promised by the Islamic State that they could safely return to Wardi, then disappeared. The Islamic State is a genocidal threat to non-conformists.])

Definitely fake evidence

When I got back online, I was first shown a tweet from Hamo (@KekHamo), which showed photos before and during destruction. Hamo believed that the shrine had been destroyed, because it had been reported by Rudaw; and András J. Riedlmayer found another photo that corroborated the before image (searches for which can be confused by photos of the tomb-mosque of Sayeda Zeinab outside Damascus in Syria); but I immediately recognised the image of the moment of destruction.

Before Hamo, AyaIShbn @AyaIShbn had shared the photos: ‘ISIS terrorists blew up the shrine of Sayeda Zeinab in #Shingal west of #Mosul, a security source in Nineveh province said. #Iraq #NO2ISIS.’ (AyIShbn got her “corroborating” images, through Salih @SpringRebel, from Mustafa Aliraqi @Iraqism.) The source of the image is not clear, but the subject is: the image is a still from around fifteen seconds into one of the videos of the destruction of the Tomb of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus. Obviously, the producer of the image must have found that video, frozen it, captured the still and repurposed it, so it is deliberately fake evidence, and there is not yet any evidence of the destruction of the Shrine-Mosque of Sayeda Zeinab.

Confirmed evidence of site destruction [update (4th August 2014)]

A scholar of Yezidism and fundamentalism, Matthew Barber, has detailed the humanitarian crisis and existential threat to the Yezidi community. In his piece, he presented before and after images of the destruction: the [Shia] Shrine-Mosque of Sayeda Zeinab has been destroyed.

(c) Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

(c) Iraqi TV, 3rd August 2014; Matthew Barber, Syria Comment, 3rd August 2014

The threat of ethnic-religious cleansing of the Yezidi community

The shrine-mosque is in the majority (Kurdish) Yezidi city of Sinjar. Since the Islamic State judges Yezidis’ reconciliation of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam and other faiths to be shirk (polytheism), those mushrikiin (polytheist) communities are exceptionally endangered. Since they are exceptionally endangered, facts are more important than ever. This site’s destruction could signal the launch of another campaign of ethnic-religious cleansing.

It’s also notable that, up to now, the Islamic State has destroyed sites once it has control of an area. In other words, the destruction of sites has not been an overriding aim. After all, the Caliphate could have fired rockets at sites during its battles for control; or, as these reports suggest, it could have used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at short notice rather than expertly-planted dynamite and stage-managed public relations.

As far as I can remember, this appears consistent enough that it enables insights into the Islamic State’s perception of its own situation. If it begins to destroy sites hurriedly with IEDs, that suggests that it is no longer confident of its position or its prospects. And since the destruction of these sites distracts from the military campaign and provokes armed resistance to it, the ethnic/religious cleansing may be an attempt to raise funds from extremist sponsors.

[Update (4th August 2014): the destruction appears as controlled and complete as every other so far; the ruins do not look like they have been struck by IEDs.]

Photo “evidence”

'The shrine of Sayeda Zeinab in #Shingal #Mosul #Iraq #NO2ISIS thank you @SpringRebel @Iraqism for the pictures' (c) AyIShbn, Twitter, 2.12pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

‘The shrine of Sayeda Zeinab in #Shingal #Mosul #Iraq #NO2ISIS thank you @SpringRebel @Iraqism for the pictures’
(c) AyIShbn, Twitter, 2.12pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

(c) Salih, Twitter, 1.33pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

(c) Salih, Twitter, 1.33pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

(c) Mustafa Aliraqi, Twitter, 12.56pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

(c) Mustafa Aliraqi, Twitter, 12.56pm GMT, 3rd August 2014

mosque (Nabi Yunis) bombing in Iraq تفجير جامع النبي يونس (c) Biau Biau, YouTube, 24th July 2014

mosque (Nabi Yunis) bombing in Iraq تفجير جامع النبي يونس
(c) Biau Biau, YouTube, 24th July 2014


The Islamic State is also known as the Caliphate, Da’ash, Da’esh, Da’ish, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sayeda Zeinab is also written Sayeda Zainab, Sayyda Zainab, Sayyda Zaynab, Sayyeda Zainab, Sayyida Zainab, Sayyidah Zainab, Sittna Zainab… Sayyeda Zaynab bint Ali was one of the granddaughters of Muhammed, one of the daughters of Imam Ali (who became the forefather of Shia Islam).

Arabic-language Sinjar is Kurdish-language Şengal (Shengal) or Şhingal (Shingal) and Syriac-language Siggar.

14 Responses to “The Shrine of Sayeda Zeinab [may have] been destroyed (Sinjar, Iraq, 3rd August 2014) [but there is no evidence]”

  1. Pretty much everything imaginable has been reported from the Jebel Sinjar area in the past 24 hours. ISIS has taken Sinjar. Kurds are retreating. YPG has crossed the border and saved KRG troops. ISIS is now retreating. ISIS took Mosul dam. ISIS didn’t take the Mosul dam. ISIS took hills around the Mosul dam but not the dam itself. ISIS took Zumar. ISIS may or may not occupy anything. ISIS is retreating to Tal Afar. Various numbers given for refugees all of which were pulled out of thin air. Various pictures purporting to be refugees or fighters from various factions. Someone even claimed 15 refugees starved to death. In less than 24 hours.

    Sadly, given ISIS’ recent success whenever they advance in a certain direction it sets off a mass panic. I am afraid that this sort of rumor storm will be the norm for the foreseeable future whenever a new advance is made.

    If the worst is true and ISIS really does surround Jebel Sinjar the results could be catastrophic. There seems to be very little water in the area and nowhere nearby to flee to.


    • That reads exactly like my Twitter feed, I gave up trying to catch up that way.

      Most bewildering about this is that there was photo/video evidence and somebody still faked it!


  2. Pictures and videos travel faster than text, and seem more credible too.

    There’s been a few fakes from Gaza too that just came to light. For example in the recent strike on the UN school in Rafah it seems the strike was actually on the street outside the school. Seems some photos and video showed that the bodies were moved inside the school grounds and posed for the photographers:

    (Note: I’m not sure about everything in this critique…the bloodstains on the girl’s pants look the same to me in all photos. But the bodies being posed seems solidly supported).


    • The bloodstains look the same to me too. They probably cleared the entrance to the school to ease emergency access – if they’d been doing it to fake the site of the incident, they would’ve obscured rather than exposed the sign, because it showed that the incident was outside. They may have gathered the casualties inside the school grounds for a photo that documents the casualties; they may have done it because it was marginally less dangerous (and not in the road); either way, it will very probably very quickly become propaganda that the attack landed inside the school. But like so much else, I think the propaganda is bizarre because it is so unnecessary.

      Thomas Wictor chose to excise a line from his source report: ‘Witnesses and medics in the town of Rafah said the missile struck the entrance to the UN-run school where Palestinians who had fled their homes were sheltering.’ So witnesses, medics and media did not claim that the attack had killed people inside the school in the first place. They knew that the victims were civilians because they knew that the victims were people ‘from inside the school’, i.e. internally displaced persons. They identified the attack as a strike “on [the] school” because the strike landed at its entrance and killed its residents. I’d prefer a touch more precision, but I don’t think it’s an unfair characterisation.

      If Thomas Wictor’s greatest defence for the IDF is that they haven’t committed a war crime because they’ve only killed civilians at the entrance to their shelter, rather than inside the entrance to their shelter, I think he should consider changing jobs.


      • It seems clear that the strike was conducted with a Spike or similar missile on a target in the street outside the school. The pictures and video seem to confirm the IDF’s story that the strike targeted three men on a motorcycle – we see three dead or visibly injured men of military age in the pictures.

        I suppose the only way we’ll know for sure is if the IDF releases footage from the drone or the missile which could show if persons other than those targeted were outside the school walls when the missile hit. Which they are only likely to do if it shows no one but the targeted persons were there.


        • Thomas Wictor is simply not a reliable source and may have knowingly or unknowingly mixed up material. (He is not well, so it may be out of his control, but his presentation cannot be trusted at all.)

          We cannot equivocate deaths of men because they are deaths of men who are neither children nor elderly, and who are therefore “of military age”, and who could therefore be in an armed group. If Israel is telling the truth this time, it can present evidence. If it has evidence that they were Hamas fighters, but its evidence demonstrates that there were civilian bystanders, it could and should present that evidence; it should present that evidence for its own sake, because that would reduce or negate any potential charges at the International Criminal Court.

          I cannot understand why we should theorise that it has extenuating evidence, theorise that it is withholding that evidence for a reason other than obstructing justice, theorise that the withheld evidence disproves all of the existing testimonies, and therefore theorise that some of the victims might have been legitimate military targets.


  3. No, of course we can’t assume they were PIJ members because they were male and in their 20s. It is, however, consistent with the IDF claim that they targeted 3 men on a motorcycle in the street outside the school.

    I think I garbled my last paragraph. I wasn’t saying that the IDF was hiding extenuating evidence, but that one way to fully confirm the IDF side of the story would be through drone footage. If such footage exists I expect it would be released, given the publicity around this strike (as they did with previous strikes at the school in Beit Hanoun and the Wafa hospital). I base this on the IDF frequently releasing drone surveillance footage of other strikes (IDFnadesk YouTube page), including precision strikes on vehicles carrying suspected militants. However, they only release such footage when it’s a ‘clean’ op – target destroyed, no bystanders killed or injured. If no such footage emerges in the next few days, either it doesn’t exist, or more likely, it shows something the IDF doesn’t want to confirm (probably, that it ordered the strike despite the presence of bystanders).

    Regardless, I doubt there will be any prosecution in the ICC. Doing so would raise far too many uncomfortable questions for powerful countries regarding the actions of their own armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, and elsewhere.


    • Ahhh, sorry, okay, yeah – though they released footage that allegedly showed militarisation of one of the other attacked schools but that the UN refuted, so even that isn’t necessarily useful. Surely, confirming a strike that incidentally killed civilians would be less bad than not disproving suspicions of a strike that only killed civilians? It may prove difficult for the great powers to talk Palestine out of invoking the ICC now.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: