ISIS Cashing in on Looted Antiquities to Fuel Iraq Insurgency

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tags: Iraq, Iran, ISIS



Three years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS, was just a small group of extremist Sunni Muslim militants battling to bring down the Syrian government. But in recent weeks, ISIS has emerged as a major insurgency, expanding its Syrian territories and capturing a broad swath of Iraq, including the country's second largest city, Mosul. And this raises an important question: How did ISIS grow so swiftly and raise enough money to buy weapons for its army?

Much evidence suggests that ISIS cashed in on the Syrian oil fields it captured. But two weeks ago, Iraqi intelligence officers discovered new sources of its income, according to a report in the Guardiannewspaper. While securing the safe house of a dead ISIS commander, they seized more than 160 computer flash drives containing detailed financial records of the insurgents. Listed among ISIS's key financial transactions were records of illicit antiquity trafficking. In one region of Syria alone, the group reportedly netted up to $36 million from activities that included the smuggling of plundered artifacts.

Such profiteering fits well with a longstanding pattern in the region, says Thomas Livoti, a PhD student at the University of Montana who is studying the impact of counterinsurgencies on archaeological sites.




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