KABUL — Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have blown the head off one of the ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service reported on Friday.
The purist Islamic group used a "large explosive" on Thursday to destroy the "top quarter" of the taller of the statues, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said.
"Informed sources told AIP that the Taliban again started the demolition of the statues on Thursday and by using a large explosive destroyed the upper part of the 53-meter statue.
"The sources said that efforts were being made today (Friday) to destroy the remaining part of the tallest statue."
The Taliban had vowed to destroy the statues, carved almost 2,000 years ago, sparking international condemnation, but witnesses said the campaign had been put on hold for Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which ended Thursday.
AIP said the lower portion of the statue had been destroyed "previously" and that only the middle section remained. It did not elaborate.
The two Buddhas in the central province of Bamiyan tower 53 metres (175 feet) and 38 metres (120 feet) and were hewn out of sandstone cliffs almost 2,000 years ago.
A picture of the taller statue taken in 1997 shows the face already erased, chipped away over the centuries by Islamic rulers. Islam arrived in the country in the ninth century, ending centuries of Buddhist rule.
Opposition officials said the Taliban resumed destruction of the Buddhas on Thursday.
"They are using tanks, artillery, shells and also explosive devices for knocking them down completely," Mohammad Ashraf Nadeem, a spokesman for the opposition led by commander Ahmad Shah Masood, told Reuters.
"The Taliban have allowed residents to watch the event as well."
AIP said there was no immediate comment from the Taliban, who are under intense international pressure to spare Afghanistan's best-known archaeological treasures.
Despite the international outcry, Taliban leaders have insisted that the policy of demolishing all statues—considered un-Islamic—will not be reversed.
A Japanese delegation of four members of parliament is on its way to the southern city of Kandahar for a last-minute appeal to save the statues.
Japan, one of the largest aid donors to war-ravaged Afghanistan, has hinted that that aid could be threatened by the statue destruction campaign.
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil has rejected proposals to save the statues, which have included offers from foreign museums to buy them and a proposal to build a giant wall to hide them from Islamic eyes.
The order to smash the statues was issued a month after the United Nations imposed new sanctions against the Taliban, aimed mainly to force them to hand over Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, who is accused of blowing up two U.S. embassies.