Cultural trafficking funds weapons in the Middle East

 Damas  |  4 August 2014  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

According to the International Committee of Museums (ICOM), the illegal trade of antiquities could be one of the sources of income for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — a group of militant Sunni Muslim extremists.

According to information unveiled by The Guardian, in order to determine the exact role of the group, Iraqi intelligence officers analysed 160 ISIS computer files which highlighted figures corresponding to the illicit trafficking of antiquities. In Syria alone, the group have reportedly made $36 million, a percentage of which is attributed to the smuggling of cultural artefacts. Towards the end of 2013, more than 90% of Syria’s cultural sites fell in regions affected by the conflict, increasing their vulnerability to plunder. In 2013, ICOM acknowledged the gravity of the situation by publishing an emergency Red List of Syrian cultural artefacts which could be at risk.

Sam Hardy, an archaeologist at University College London who studies the illegal trafficking of cultural artefacts, explains that insurgents or paramilitaries tend to participate through one of three ways. Either they run their own illegal trade network, facilitate the smuggling of these objects, or they impose a tax on traffickers who work in their territory. According to Hardy, ISIS are in charge of several networks connected to the illegal trafficking of cultural goods.


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