Saturday, 31 January 2015

More on Spanish Claims of Militant Funding through Antiquities Sales

More information is emerging from the Spanish portion of Operation Aureus which supports the rather vague claim made earlier that it might be connected with funding terrorism (Glen James, 'Gang of 'antique smugglers who sold looted treasures to fund ISIS busted in Spain' , Daily Mirror, 31 January 2015).
A gang of alleged antique smugglers have been arrested after being suspected of selling stolen Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists. Spanish police claim the network were operating out of mosques in Barcelona after they raided a shipment which they believe originated in Egypt. They added that the gang had gone to great lengths to try and hide what they were smuggling - which included human figurines, animal figurines and small bronze statues worth several hundred thousand euros. [...] Officials from the Spanish civil guard who carried out the operation said they believed money raised was going directly to fund jihadists. Four Egyptian men and one Spanish man were arrested in the city as a result of the police operation that also led to the seizure of 36 pieces of artwork in Valencia, which are believed to have originally come from Egypt. Experts from the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid say they suspect the antiquities had been looted from sites around the Egyptian towns of Saqqara and Mit Rahina south of the capital Cairo. They were in a container that came from the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria and was being shipped to Barcelona. A police spokesman said: "This gang had gone to extreme lengths to avoid discovery. They operated in a network that was centred around mosques and other venues located in downtown areas in the city of Barcelona." They said that the one Spanish man arrested had been a dealer in antiquities who appeared to be the gang's local contact and who was supposed to sell the items on the black market. Those arrested face charges of smuggling cultural goods, money laundering, and membership of an international criminal organisation.
Now, note what would have happened if that (Barcelona?) dealer had been asked by investigating journalists about the looting of antiquities in Egypt and the question of antiquities sales financing militantism. He'd join the chorus of course of European and North American dealers chanting the litany of 'we don't see an increase in the amount of such stuff coming onto the market - honest'. This is what all the rest of the dealers are telling journalists. It is what they want their customers sincerely to believe. Yet it is being alleged that this particular dealer had a container containing a load of them waiting for him in one of Spain's largest ports. This dealer is reported to have been cynically dealing with four Egyptian gang members (allegedly working out of the mosques). What is the truth behind these allegations? Will the dealer concerned issue a press statement?  Will he co-operate with authorities and say who'd been buying stuff from him? Anyhow, alerted to the issue and its potential significance:
Spanish police also confirmed that they were stepping up monitoring ports, airports and border control points following fears that there would be an increase in similar types of smuggling in particular with regards to shipments from the Middle East where conflicts are being fought.

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