Overthe past year, Islamic State (ISIS) militants have embarked on an unstoppable rampage of destruction of some of the greatest ancient sites in the world. Most recently, the terrorist organization destroyed a Baalshamin temple in Palmyra, Syria—just weeks after publicly beheading Professor Khaled al-Assaad, the archaeologist who had looked after Palmyra’s ruins for four decades.
Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement the destruction of the temple was “a new war crime” that “reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history.”
In the wake of this destruction, reports emerged warning that ISIS is selling looted antiquities. Just last week, the FBI alerted US art collectors and dealers that artifacts plundered by ISIS have now entered the marketplace.
“We now have credible reports that US persons have been offered cultural property that appears to have been removed from Syria and Iraq recently,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI’s Art Theft Program.
The one-page flyer issued by the FBI asks US art and antiquities market leaders to spread the word that preventing illegally obtained artifacts from reaching the market may help prevent the financing of Islamist militants through the sale of plundered artifacts. In particular, the flyer urged due diligence in purchasing any antiquities from the region, paying special attention to an object’s origin.
“Check and verify provenance, importation and other documents,” Magness-Gardiner sais. “You have to be very careful when you’re buying. We don’t want to say don’t buy anything at all. There’s a lot of legitimate material circulating in the marketplace. What we’re trying to say is, don’t allow these pieces that could potentially support terrorism to be part of the trade.”
Earlier this year, the Department of State published satellite imagery showing industrial-level looting at Syrian and Iraqi archaeological sites. In addition, in February 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted for Resolution 2199, which obligates member states, including the US, to take steps to prevent terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria from receiving donations and from benefiting from trade in oil, antiquities and hostages.
The State Department is posting “Red Lists” to their website where collectors and dealers can view and learn to recognize the kinds of objects that have been looted from cultural sites, stolen from museums and churches and illicitly trafficked.
The FBI emphasized that collaboration with the trade, professional, and academic communities has been and will continue to be critical to the success of FBI investigations. The FBI believes their cooperation will be essential in halting trade in looted and stolen artifacts from Syria and Iraq.