Wednesday 3 February 2010

The Blood Antiquities of 9/11 Who Bought Them?

According to reports in the autumn issue of the Journal of Art Crime, based on information gathered by the German secret service, it was reported that in 1999 terrorist Mohamed Atta had allegedly tried to make some money dealing artefacts from Afghanistan to a German archaeologist. While the archaeologist did not buy them, it seems somebody else who has not come forward probably did.

Atta had moved to Germany from his native Cairo in 1992 to study at the Hamburg University of Technology. It was there that he became increasingly radicalised, eventually forming the so-called Hamburg Cell of terrorists who organ­ised the 2001 attacks on the US. Atta then spent several months in Afghanistan in late 1999 when he met Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders and trained to be a terrorist. Here, if the reports are to be believed, he might have made arrangements to sell looted Afghan antiquities in Germany, apparently in order to fund flying lessons in the United States. We have reports of one such attempted transaction, there may have been more. In 1999, Atta is said to have approached an archaeologist at the University of Göttingen offering him artefacts for sale. The unidentified researcher declined the offer. Presumably however somebody else less concerned about the ethics of obtaining such items may have accepted, maybe a German private collector. As we know somehow Atta raised the money for his flying lessons, and as a result two years after it has been suggested that he'd been peddling antiquities to no-questions-asked buyers, was the lead highjacker in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre.

This is the problem with the no-questions-asked market, collectors have no way of learning into whose money the money they pay for decontextualised artefacts goes, and what it will be used for. They fondly imagine that they might be "feeding starving families" in some poor village somewhere, but evidence shows that by the second decade of the current millennium, much of the trade in such items is in reality in the hands of organized criminal groups and that some of the money is going to support the activities of militants. Whoever ultimately bought the blood antiquities reportedly being offered by Atta probably does not even know it, and that it was their that their money was used to finance the 2001 attacks on the lives of innocent people. I bet the majority of antiquities dealers and collectors would not even care that this might be the case - if they cared, they would be much more careful about what they buy and from whom.

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