Looting Antiquities Second only to Oil as Source of Income for Islamic State

Friday, February 13, 2015
A mosaic looted from Apamea. Credit: Interpol

The Islamic State has found a new moneymaker. In addition to using oil to generate funds for weapons, IS has been looting ancient sites in Syria and Iraq, taking antiquities from Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi heritage sites and selling them on the black market.

The thefts have generated enough money that they have become the second most important source of revenue for IS after petroleum sales, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into an organized transnational business that is helping fund terror,” Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University who is helping the State Department address the problem, told the Journal. “It’s the gravest cultural emergency I’ve seen.”

In Syria, which has suffered 200,000 deaths since 2011 from the civil war, the fighting and looting have ravaged the ancient cities of Homs and Aleppo as well as Roman, Greek, Babylonian and Assyrian sites and five of the six Unesco World Heritage sites in Syria have been seriously damaged, the Journal’s Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin reported.

U.S. officials estimate that up to $100 million worth of antiquities are being sold off each year. An Iraqi official said IS had made $36 million alone in selling loot from al-Nabek, a Syrian city that contains several early Christian sites known for their icons and wall mosaics.

To help preserve what is left inside Syria, a small band of academics are risking their lives by visiting important sites to document the remains and in some cases hide or bury them so they don’t fall into the hands of IS or other thieves.

Government officials in Britain and the United States are trying to stop looted antiquities from entering their countries. Bills have been introduced in those legislatures that would block the importation and sale of looted heritage items.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Syrian ‘Monuments Men’ Race to Protect Antiquities as Looting Bankrolls Terror (by

Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin, Wall Street Journal)

MP Leads Campaign To Stop Islamic State Funding Terror Through Trafficking (by Emily Sharpe, The Art Newspaper)


dzLA 9 years ago
Looting ME and Iraqi antiquities was no issue for the Bush administration. As the Guardian reported in April 14, 2003 rich American art collectors (American Council for Cultural Policy) with connections to the White House were busy "persuading the Pentagon to relax legislation that protects Iraq's heritage by preventing of sales abroad" opening up illegal trade in Iraq's antiquities. Nothing has changed in the Fourth Reich.
DDearborn 9 years ago
Hmmmm Compared to the 5 largest oil companies in the world ISIS (despite the fact the really work for Israel/US) are a bunch of saints. These oil companies have been robbing the world blind for nearly a century. And they looted the Middle East' oil more than half a century before ISIS was even a gleam in Tel Aviv's eyes.

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