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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Threatens to Blow Up'Big Buddha' in Enemy Territory

GHORBAND VALLEY, Afghanistan -- Moslem fundamentalist Taliban fighters have warned they will demolish a massive and ancient statue of Buddha if they advance into enemy territory in central Afghanistan.


Dubbing the famous cliff carving "un-Islamic," a senior Taliban commander Wednesday issued a simple warning about the fate of the "Big Buddha": "We will blow it up."


Frontline commander Abdul Wahid told journalists the spectacular 55 meter high image would be dynamited if the militia managed to break through a rival faction's lines, 10 kilometers from here.


He said the carving -- set in a huge niche in a sheer cliff face -- was un-Islamic as it represented an "infidel" religion. It also bears a human image, which is forbidden by Islam.


The commander also denied the site -- which has been the focus of major restoration and archeological work -- was of any scientific or historical value, and appeared determined to destroy it.


The site -- once a key post on the ancient Silk Road, a major trading route -- lies in the Shiite Hezb-i-Wahdat faction stronghold of Bamian province, a mere 60 kilometers west of current Taliban positions.


The militia is determined to push into the Shia Moslem stronghold, but still has to cross the snow-bound Shibar Pass which separates them from Bamian.


Military analysts say that although the Taliban -- who now control two-thirds of the war-torn country -- are likely to face a tough fight from the Wahdat, they may manage to push forward, particularly if commanders shift alliances, a common Afghan phenomenon.


The "Big Buddha," built in the third or fourth century after Christ, became one of the symbols of Afghanistan when the country opened up to international tourism in the 1960s and 70s, before civil war tore the country apart.