Islamic State smugglers sell looted Syrian artefacts in London

Objects smuggled out of Syria during the ongoing civil war. Image by the BBC.
Objects smuggled out of Syria during the ongoing civil war. Image by the BBC.

An estimated 100 pieces of Syrian art and artefacts have been smuggled into Britain and sold to Europeans by Islamic State supporters, according to a report by British newspaper The Times.

In a special report released last week the newspaper reported that recently looted artefacts had made their way to Britain where they were being sold in order to raise funds for Islamic State military operations.

Among the items allegedly sold are artefacts from as early as the Roman and Byzantine eras. The items, which include pottery, coins, gold and glass items are estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of Euros and have thought to have been looted by militants from mosques, museums and private collections.

Smuggling of the items is thought to be done on behalf of Islamic State militants by a third-party. Experts claim that many items have left Syria via ISIS-controlled areas and through established smuggling routes in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan through which people, drugs, arms and ammunition have previously been moved.

Although the majority of artworks from Syria (and Iraq) would appear to have been sold in Europe some have claimed that looted pieces may have also reached as far as East Asia and America.

Art Recovery International, a group that specialises in identifying and recovering stolen and plundered art and antiques told The Times that looted artefacts in Europe may be very common. According to the group it is difficult to track the exact number of items that may enter Europe illegally. Although many collectors choose to turn a blind eye to an item’s origins many more may be completely unaware.

Shortly after the report was published David Gill, a professor of archaeological heritage at Suffolk University, told the BBC that many collectors were completely complicit in the act of looting. According to Professor Gill galleries in Britain and the rest of Europe were often aware that items coming from Syria and Iraq had arrived in the country illegally.

Gill’s comments highlighted an underlying culture within Britain to accept plundered and looted objects within the art world. Many of Britain’s largest galleries and collections are filled with art works and antiquities acquired through historical acts of theft, many of which date back to the British colonial era.

The report prompted discussion across Britain on the subject of Islamic State smuggling. According to many not enough is being done tackle illegal antiques entering Europe. Many are also highly concerned that the high value of the items, and collectors willingness to turn a blind eye, is helping fund Islamic State military activities.

According to various sources Islamic State forces have also engaged in drug smuggling and human trafficking in order to fund further activities in Iraq and Syria.

Reports of smuggled items reaching Europe come shortly after video images emerged of Islamic State fighters destroying museum artefacts in Iraq. Although ISIS stated that the objects had been destroyed because of their connection with false religion, the group were accused of propaganda and hypocrisy after local officials claimed that several items had been stolen in the attack.

It was later confirmed that statues destroyed in Mosul were actually replicas of the real thing, which had been moved from the area in 2003 during the Iraq War.

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