Date
24 May 2017
Thousands of priceless antiques from across war-ravaged Syria have been gathered in the capital Damascus for safekeeping. Photo: Reuters
Thousands of priceless antiques from across war-ravaged Syria have been gathered in the capital Damascus for safekeeping. Photo: Reuters

FBI warns art dealers on Syria, Iraq antiquities

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has urged art dealers in the United States to be careful when buying antiquities from the Middle East, saying there is evidence collectors have recently been offered artifacts plundered by Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

The looting of ancient artifacts across Iraq and Syria and their sale on the black market has become a source of funding for Islamic State militants, and there is growing concern those items are showing up in the Western marketplace, Reuters reported, citing an FBI press release.

“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 Art Theft Program.

Magness-Gardiner urged collectors and buyers to be vigilant checking importation, provenance and other documents.

“What we’re trying to say is, don’t allow these pieces that could potentially support terrorism to be part of the trade,” she said.

The Islamic State has ransacked some of the greatest archaeological sites in northern Iraq and Syria, posting photos and videos of fighters destroying pre-Islamic monuments and temples they consider idolatrous.

On Tuesday, the group published photos purporting to show the destruction of the Roman-era Baal Shamin temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, an act the UN cultural agency UNESCO has called a war crime.

Before the city’s capture by Islamic State, Syrian officials said they moved hundreds of ancient statues to safe locations out of concern they would be destroyed by the militants.

Last month, the US handed back to Iraq antiquities it said had been seized in a raid on Islamic State fighters in Syria, saying the retrieval was proof the group was attempting to sell the items to raise cash.

The relics included ancient cylindrical stamps, pottery, metallic bracelets and other jewelry.

Islamic State fighters have desecrated ancient Assyrian and Graeco-Roman palaces in northern Iraq including the 2,700-year-old Assyrian capital of Khorsabad.

Growing concern the trade in plundered artifacts can help finance militants earned them the nickname “blood antiquities” — adapted from the phrase “blood diamond,” used to refer to gems that financed fighters in African wars from Angola to Sierra Leone.

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CG

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