ISIS and the corrupt art trade: We know cultural crimes fund terrorism — now what?

13 Apr 2015 7:56 AM | Anonymous
ISIS and the corrupt art trade: We know cultural crimes fund terrorism — now what?

A museum can be worth as much as an oil field, provided there is someone willing to buy looted and smuggled art

Noah Charney

The term “tomb raider” brings to mind a scantily clad video game heroine before most people associate it with black-clad fundamentalist terrorists.  But the people who illegally excavate archaeological sites rarely wear daisy dukes while brachiating their way, vine to vine, across subterranean chasms.  The world of antiquities looting has crossed into the realm of terrorism—the ancient pot you buy on eBay, or at a prestigious auction house, might be funding jihadists.

The union of art and terrorism is nothing new.  In the 1970s, IRA operatives stole art on several occasions from Irish private collections, in order to sell or swap for the release of political prisoners.  In 1999, Mohammed Atta, one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks, flew to Germany with photographs of looted Afghan antiquities, which he sought to sell in order, in his own words, “to buy a plane” that would have been crashed into American buildings.  Just a few weeks ago, ISIS bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and smashed statues at a museum in Mosul, destroying pre-Islamic monuments and artifacts, while news filtered out that they were earning “as much as tens of millions” by selling antiquities looted from territory in occupied Syria alone, to foreign buyers.  Just days ago, terrorists stormed a museum in Tunisia and killed everyone they found inside.  Stolen art and looted antiquities fund terrorist groups.  So why has it taken so long for the world to take this seriously, or even notice?