ISIS Destroys Saint Elijah's Monastery Iraq
US soldiers visit the Saint Elijah's Monastery in Mosul, Iraq, in 2009. United States Air Force/Staff Sgt. JoAnn S. Makinano

The Islamic State (Isis) destruction of Iraq's oldest Christian monastery has been met with shock and despair by religious figures and heritage conservationists around the globe. Satellite images obtained by AP revealed the 1,400-year-old St Elijah's Monastery of Mosul has been completely flattened.

"I can't describe my sadness," Father Paul Thabit Habib, a priest from Mosul now in exile in Irbil, told the news agency. "Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically levelled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."

Built between 582 and 590AD by Assyrian Christian monk Dair Mar Elia, from which it took the name, the holy site dear to the Chaldean Catholic community been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Damaged in the 2003 Iraqi war, it was briefly turned into an Iraqi and later US military encampment before its cultural value was recognised and a preservation project started.

Mosul fell to IS (Daesh) fighters along with large swathes of Iraq in spring 2014. The jihadi group has systematically blown up or bulldozed ancient monuments it perceives as blasphemous symbols of different religions in areas it controls.

World heritage sites in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra are among the more than 100 religious and historic sites, including mosques, shrines and churches that have fallen the victim to IS iconoclastic violence.

The St Elijah's Monastery was one of the first to fall into IS's hands but the destruction had not before been confirmed. An analysis of the satellite photos pinpointed the date somewhere 27 August and 28 September 2014.

"Oh no way. It's just razed completely," Suzanne Bott, a conservation practitioner who worked at the monastery for two years, told AP upon seeing the satellite images. "What we lose is a very tangible reminder of the roots of a religion."

The revelation came a day after the UN reported IS had repeatedly blown up houses of Christians living in Iraq in an attempt to consolidate its brutal rule by punishing minorities and potential opponents. In a report on the conflict, the world body said it documented the destruction of at least 31 Christian homes in the Mosul area from May to October 2015.