Wednesday 17 December 2014

Bruggeman and ISIL Looting: "Not just antiquities"

In the UK, a Times article by reporter Oliver Moody quotes a senior police officer involved in investigating and stopping the trades who indicates that ISIL is now raising substantial funds by selling looted cultural property directly to western collectors. This raises also the issue which Sam Hardy discussed about the level in the chain of passage of the smuggled goods at which ISIL is involved. He points out that, if verified, the high sums of revenue some sources quote would suggest that they are not just low-end suppliers of the chain, but as suppliers at a higher level. The present report seems to be saying the same thing:
Willy Bruggeman, a former deputy director of Europol who is now president of the Belgian federal police council, said that [...] [w]hereas dealers in the west once had to use middlemen to buy looted stonework and paintings from the Middle East, Dr Bruggeman said that they were now in direct contact with Islamic State (Isis). "[Isis] are now using their own networks to come into contact with the final buyers," he said. "When I was working on these cases at Europol, you could see many levels of transactions in this area — now they want to have a one-to-one relationship with the collectors." The smuggling networks are so effective that less than 1 per cent of the pieces known to have been stolen by the militants from churches and ancient towns across Iraq and Syria have been recovered, he claimed. 
Dr Bruggeman cites not only the looting of ancient sites such as Dura-Europos, but indicates the trade in cultural property includes art looted from historical sites and monuments such as in Aleppo and Homs:
Dr Bruggeman said that frescoes and masonry wrenched from the walls of ancient churches were among the most common illicitly traded artefacts. Two sets of antiquities believed to have been robbed from sites under the auspices of Isis were recovered from the United States earlier this year, and another case is under way in Germany. 
Dr Bruggeman said that the looting and destruction of heritage was not done only to raise funds but the destruction of identity-forming monuments is intended, he says, as a kind of cultural cleansing and a means of domination.
The smuggling routes used for this trade are those through borders with neighbouring countries such as Turkey established for other contraband such as oil and arms smuggling. Western authorities struggle to estimate the numbers of illegal artefacts pouring out of the areas controlled by Isis as the transactions are carried out well away from licensed sales of antiquities. Earlier this year an Iraqi intelligence official claimed that Isis had made as much as £23 million from the area around al-Nabek, a city in Syria that contains several early Christian sites. Proceeds from such sales are believed to be bolstering their war chest, alongside oil smuggling, ransoms from hostage taking and racketeering.
Oliver Moody,  “ISIS fills war chest by selling looted antiquities to the West”, The Times, 17th December 2014.

See also: by Donna Rachel Edmunds, 'Illegal Sales of Looted Antiquities to West Adding Millions to ISIS War Funds', Breitbart News 17 Dec 2014 for similar content.

Hat tip to Sam Hardy.

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