The self-declared Islamic State has released photos purportedly of its fighters destroying an ancient artifact in the Syrian city of Palmyra weeks after the Islamist extremists captured the city.

A "priceless" 2,000-year-old statue of a lion dating from the city's Roman heritage is seen being smashed in what Syrian antiquities director Maamoun Abdelkarim tells Agence-France Press is "the most serious crime [ISIS has] committed against Palmyra's heritage."

The ancient city was captured by the Islamist extremists in May, amid fears that ISIS might target its treasures, as happened in Mosul after ISIS seized that town in February.

The Telegraph quotes Abdelkarim as saying that the lion statue had been covered in metal plates and sandbags to protect it from being damaged in fighting during the Syrian conflict. "[We] never imagined that [the Islamic State] would come to the town to destroy it."

The Telegraph reports:

"Also on Thursday, [ISIS] released photos showing its members in Aleppo destroying several statues from Palmyra that were being smuggled through the northern province." 'An IS checkpoint in Wilyat (region of) Aleppo arrested a person transporting several statues from Palmyra,' the group said in an online statement." 'The guilty party was taken to an Islamic court in the town of Minbej, where it was decided that the trafficker would be punished and the statues destroyed.' "Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit