Funding terrorism: Antiquities looted by ISIS are destined to be bought by Western art collectors

The Wall Street Journal reports: A stream of plundered antiquities flowing out of Syria and Iraq to Western art collectors is dependent on men like Muhammad hajj Al-Hassan.

Mr. Al-Hassan, a 28-year-old Syrian, says he started to trade antiquities in 2015 after being contacted by a top official of Islamic State who sought his archaeological expertise to find Western buyers.

Later, he became a cog in an international supply chain smuggling art looted by ISIS.

ISIS’s territorial grip is fading fast: Iraq has declared victory over the terrorist group in Mosul and ISIS is fighting to hold its self-proclaimed Syrian capital Raqqa—the last major city under its control. But the group’s legacy of looting will linger for many years, law-enforcement officials say, in much the same way that art looted by the Nazis continues to surface 70 years later. The ancient statues, jewelry and artifacts that ISIS has stolen in Syria and Iraq, are already moving underground and may not surface for decades, according to these officials and experts in the trade.

Once a smuggled artifact lands with an art dealer in Europe or the U.S., the journey is still not over. To “launder” their origin, smuggled artifacts can be stored in warehouses for years and an ownership history is fabricated, according to a French security official and the Bulgarian report.

In the June House Committee hearing, Mr. Daniels said that it could take six to nine years for the art now being smuggled to hit public sale. A U.S. security official involved in investigations into art trafficking said it could take over 10 years in some cases.

Traffickers often use old typewriters to backdate certificates of ownership, another French official said. Objects are also moved from dealer to dealer to create a fake paper trail that makes their ownership harder to prosecute, said Mr. Danti, the director at the Cultural Heritage Initiatives.

There are around 20 major art galleries and trading houses in Western European cities that offer smuggled artifacts, the Bulgarian report said, without naming them. “The trade’s main target buyers are, ironically, history enthusiasts and art aficionados in the United States and Europe—representatives of the societies which ISIS has pledged to destroy,” Mr. Fanusie told Congress last April.

The FBI has a $5 million reward for any information about looted materials coming into the U.S. from Syria and Iraq. No one has come forward to claim a reward, law-enforcement officials say. [Continue reading…]

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