Is ISIS Bankrolling Terrorist Activities with Stolen Antiquities?

Iraqi pro-government forces hold an Islamic State (IS) group flag in Fallujah as they try to clear the city of IS fighters on June 19, 2016. Photo Haidar Mohammmed Ali/AFP/Getty Images.
Iraqi pro-government forces hold an Islamic State (IS) group flag in Fallujah as they try to clear the city of IS fighters on June 19, 2016. Photo Haidar Mohammmed Ali/AFP/Getty Images.

 

A resident of Tabqa city waves an Islamist flag in celebration after ISIS took over the nearby base in Syria. Photo via: Buzzfeed

A resident of Tabqa city waves an Islamist flag in celebration after ISIS took over the nearby base in Syria. Photo via: Buzzfeed

In the wake of ISIS’s recent terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq, there has been growing speculation in the international press about the Islamic insurgent group’s staggering wealth—rumored to be over $2 billion—and, crucially, many questions regarding the provenance of that cash.

Their main source of income, besides the looting of banks and military supplies from occupied territories, and ransoms, is said to come from controlling a large number of oil fields and refineries. But some journalists are also suggesting that the terrorist organization might have smuggled a large number of priceless antiquities, pillaged from archaeological digs.

“They had taken $36m from al-Nabuk alone (an area in the Qalamoun mountains west of Damascus). The antiquities there are up to 8,000 years old,” a foreign intelligence official told the Guardian.

The journalist Sheera Frenkel went even further claiming that a British archaeologist who verifies whether antiquities reaching London are legally sourced had told her: “We are seeing unheard of numbers of stolen goods making their way into auction houses which are considered reputable.”

The Conflict Antiquities blogger Sam Hardy, however, is dismissing the rumored whopping profit figures as “contradictory,” saying that it “is unimaginable that the Islamic State is making $36m from a 0.2%-0.4% share of the market value of the antiquities that have been looted from one district.”


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