Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations alleged this week that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is making between $100-$200 million a year by selling priceless antiques they seize.
“Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of… UNESCO, are under the control of the Islamic State… in Syria and Iraq,” wrote Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. “The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at U.S. $150-200 million per year.”
Churkin said the group moves the valuables through their “equivalent of a ministry for natural resources.” Only Islamic State militants who possess “a permit with a stamp from this division are permitted to excavate, remove and transport antiquities.”
Experts previously put the amount at $36 million a year. The Islamic State began profiting off the priceless items when they began their caliphate in 2014. Illegal antiques “[rank] third in global organized crime.” Munich is a leading major city for illicit antiquities trade in the world, along with Brussels and London. But Churkin alleged it was Turkey — a nation with whom Russian diplomacy has deteriorated since Ankara shot down a Russian plane it alleged had illegally entered Turkish airspace — whose antiquities trade was most concerning. “The main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market,” he wrote in his letter.
He also mentioned the smugglers use the cities of Izmir, Mersin, and Antalya, “where criminal groups produce fake documents on their origin.”
“The antiquities are then offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores,” he explained. “Recently ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artifacts directly to buyers.”
Last summer, Facebook shut down as many Arabic-language pages as they could when the owners tried to sell Syrian antiques stolen from areas controlled by the Islamic State.
The online auction site Ebay has also denied any knowledge of terrorists using the popular website to auction the antiques. “eBay has absolutely zero interest in having illicit listings of cultural or historical goods appear on our platforms,” the company said in a statement. “We’re currently looking into the claims of this letter. To date, we are not aware of any direct evidence of listings for items on eBay that resulted from ISIL looting or similar activity.”