Islamic State Isn’t Just Destroying Ancient Artifacts — It’s Selling Them


How much the Islamic State earns from the trade is difficult to estimate. Iraqi officials say it is the group’s second most important commercial activity after oil sales, earning the militants tens of millions of dollars

BAGHDAD — Loveday Morris writes: Islamic State militants have provoked a global outcry by attacking ancient monuments with jackhammers and bulldozers. But they also have been quietly selling off smaller antiquities from Iraq and Syria, earning millions of dollars in an increasingly organized pillaging of national treasures, according to officials and experts.

“They steal everything that they can sell, and what they can’t sell, they destroy.”

— Qais Hussein Rasheed, Iraq’s deputy minister for antiquities and heritage

The Islamic State has defended its destruction of cultural artifacts by saying they are idolatrous and represent pre-Islamic cultures. Behind the scenes, though, the group’s looting has become so systematic that the Islamic State has incorporated the practice into the structure of its self-declared caliphate, granting ­licenses for digging at historic sites through a department of “precious resources.”

“The longer until Mosul is liberated, the more the danger that our human legacy will be wiped out.”

— Amr al-Julaimi, a lecturer in Mosul University’s antiquities department

The growing trade reflects how Islamic State fighters have entrenched themselves since seizing the Iraqi city of Mosul a year ago Wednesday, in a dramatic expansion of the territory they control in this country and neighboring Syria.

“Islamic State has incorporated the activity of excavation into its bureaucracy.”

— Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher on jihadist groups at the Britain-based Middle East Forum

The extremist group’s recent capture of Syria’s majestic 2,000-year-old ruins at Palmyra threw a spotlight on the risk that the Islamic State poses to the region’s rich cultural heritage. It is, however, just one of 4,500 sites under the group’s control, according to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force. “They steal everything that they can sell, and what they can’t sell, they destroy,” said Qais Hussein Rasheed, Iraq’s deputy minister for antiquities and heritage.

FILE- In this file photo taken on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 photo shows, a calcareous stone statue displayed at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad.  The videos of Islamic State militants destroying the ancient artifacts in Iraq’s museums and blowing up temples and palaces are chilling enough, but one of Iraq’s top antiquities officials said it is all a cover for an even more sinister activity _ the wholesale looting and selling of the country’s cultural heritage. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

A calcareous stone statue is displayed at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

“It’s a dependable source of revenue, which makes it very attractive, and it’s surprisingly untapped. Over time, we’ve seen ISIL and organizations like it increase their ability to draw revenue from these crimes.”

— Michael Danti, a professor of archaeology at Boston University

“We have noticed that the smuggling of antiquities has greatly increased since last June,” he added, referring to the month in which Islamic State militants took control of Mosul and large parts of northern Iraq. At that time, militants also seized the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh. In a video released earlier this year, the Islamic State showed its fighters drilling off the faces of the mighty stone-winged bulls on the gates of the city. The militants also filmed themselves destroying statues at Mosul’s museum. But many of those items were actually replicas of antiquities kept in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said. Anything genuine and small enough to move was likely sold off or stockpiled by the militants, they said.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

Iraq has suffered from years of despoilment of its historic sites, as thieves have taken advantage of instability in the country. The sacking of the poorly guarded National Museum in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 was decried around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Defacing History with Jackhammers: ISIS ‘Bulldozed’ Ancient Assyrian City of Nimrud


In the jihadists’ extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols, and shrines amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God and must be destroyed

Karim Abou Merhi and Jean Marc MojonAFP: The Islamic State group began bulldozing the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq, the government said, in the jihadists’ latest attack on the country’s historical heritage.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “assaulted the historic city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy vehicles,” the tourism and antiquities ministry said on an official Facebook page.

“These artifacts behind me are idols for people from ancient times who worshipped them instead of God.”

— Bearded militant appearing in the video

An Iraqi antiquities official confirmed the news, saying the destruction began after noon prayers on Thursday and that trucks that may have been used to haul away artifacts had also been spotted at the site.

“Until now, we do not know to what extent it was destroyed,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Nimrud, one of the jewels of the Assyrian era, was founded in the 13th century B.C. and lies on the Tigris River about 30 kilometers (18 miles) southeast of Mosul, Iraq‘s second-biggest city and the main hub of ISIS in the country.screen shot 2015-03-06 at 10.09.31 am.png

“I’m sorry to say everybody was expecting this. Their plan is to destroy Iraqi heritage, one site at a time.”

— Abdulamir Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist from Stony Brook University

Hatra of course will be next,” he said, referring to a beautifully preserved city in Nineveh province that is more than 2,000 years old and is a Unesco world heritage site.

“I’m really devastated. But it was just a matter of time.”

Nimrud is the site of what was described as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century when a team unearthed a collection of jewels and precious stones in 1988.

The jewels were briefly displayed at the Iraqi national museum before disappearing from public view, but they survived the looting that followed the 2003 US invasion and were eventually found in a Central Bank building.

Most of Nimrud’s priceless artifacts have long been moved to museums, in Mosul, Baghdad, Paris, London, and elsewhere, but giant “lamassu” statues — winged bulls with human heads — and reliefs were still on site.

YouTube screenshot General view of the Nimrud archaeological site.

YouTube screenshot General view of the Nimrud archaeological site.

The destruction at Nimrud on Thursday came a week after the jihadist group released a video showing militants armed with sledgehammers and jackhammers smashing priceless ancient artifacts at the Mosul museum.

That attack sparked widespread consternation and alarm, with some archaeologists and heritage experts comparing it with the 2001 demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

In the jihadists’ extreme interpretation of Islam, statues, idols, and shrines amount to recognizing other objects of worship than God and must be destroyed.

screen shot 2015-03-06 at 10.06.15 am.png

YouTube screenshotUS troops at Nimrud in 2003.

The video released by ISIS last week showed militants knocking statues off their plinths and rampaging through the Mosul museum’s collection.

It also shows jihadists using a jackhammer to deface an imposing granite Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal Gate in Mosul. Read the rest of this entry »

Radical Islamists with Hammers vs. Ancient Syrian Artifacts: Islamists with Hammers Win


Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters smash 3,000-year-old Assyrian statue in latest act of cultural genocide

ibz-mediumFor The Times of IsraelIlan Ben Zion reports: Fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a radical militia that controls a large swath of eastern Syria, confiscated and destroyed illegally excavated antiquities from an ancient Mesopotamian site.

In an act of cultural genocide strikingly similar to the Taliban’s demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, the ISIL fighters appear – in pictures recently uploaded by a group working to protect Syria’s rich historical heritage — to smash a 3,000-year-old Neo-Assyrian statue illegally removed from a nearby archaeological site. Another image shows a man placing his foot — an act of disrespect in Arab culture — on the face of the Assyrian statue before its destruction.


Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant stand in front of an Assyrian statue before destroying it (photo courtesy of APSA/Abou Mouseb)

Last month, the Syrian antiquities authority said in a statement that it had received notice that artifacts that “appear to be the result of an unauthorized digging” had been plundered from Tell Ajaja, the ruins of the Assyrian provincial capital Shadikanni on the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates.

At least one of the items photographed and published by the Association for the Preservation of Syrian Archaeology appeared among those recently confiscated by ISIL.

A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant desecrates an Assyrian statue by putting his foot on its face before it’s smashed (photo courtesy of APSA/Abou Mouseb)

A member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant desecrates an Assyrian statue by putting his foot on its face before it’s smashed (photo courtesy of APSA/Abou Mouseb)

The pictures, taken in Syria’s far eastern Hasakeh Province, were also said to be of artifacts removed from Tell Ajaja. The site lies approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the modern provincial capital of Hasakeh and 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Iraqi border.

Read the rest of this entry »