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Wahhabi militants cut down 150-year-old oak in Syria

Nov. 23, 2013 8:19 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 24, 2013 4:54 P.M.)
BEIRUT (AFP) -- Wahhabi militants cut down a 150-year-old oak tree in Atme, on Syria's border with Turkey, after they accused locals of worshiping it, a pro-Wahhabi militant source said.

"Thank God almighty, the tree ... aged more than 150 years has been removed, after people were worshiping it instead of God," said the source on Thursday via his Twitter account named "our call is our jihad."

He also posted pictures of a man in a black mask using an electric saw to cut down the tree. A black Al-Qaeda-style flag bearing the Islamic profession of faith had been planted on top of the tree.

The Wahhabi sympathizer used the hashtag used by supporters of the Al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the tree had been cut down, adding that it stood next to an ancient shrine in Atme.

After militants took over the shrine and prevented people from going to pray there, prayers were held by the tree instead.

The reports came hours after ISIL took over the town of Atme in northwestern Syria's Idlib on Thursday, according to the Observatory and a local rebel source.

ISIL "have taken over Atme... They have set up checkpoints across the town," said Abu Leila, a rebel from Idlib who was angered by the capture.

He saw it as a strategic loss for mainstream opposition fighters, many of who have been at loggerheads with the Wahhabi militants.

"Atme was oxygen for the (rebel) Free Syrian Army" fighting to topple Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, he told AFP.

The rebels had been using Atme "as an entry point for everything from weapons to food, and as an exit point for the wounded" into Turkey's hospitals, said Abu Leila.
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