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Antiquities Trading Tied to Terrorism

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 02, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC triggered an FBI investigation with some questionable customs claims. The museum is believed to have purchased precious ancient artifacts, claiming they were tchotchkes worth a mere $300. And it may have done business with terrorists.

"Anyone who purchases an antiquity without being 100 percent sure it is a legitimate piece is risking funding organized criminals, armed insurgents, and even terrorist networks, whether they be al-Qaeda or ISIS," Tess Davis, the executive director of the Antiquities Coalition, told Vanity Fair.

Looting the World's Treasures

The Antiquities Coalition fights the illegal trading of artifacts and tracks terrorist involvement. It says that AL-Qaeda and the Islamic State, or ISIS, are both involved in the practice of trading precious historical goods.

ISIS has increasingly engaged in antiquities looting and sales as it seizes territory from the Iraqi and Syrian governments and rebel groups. ISIS now holds more than 4,500 archaeological sites and controls the selling process, according to Davis, even charging looters for a written permit which costs 20 percent of the eventual proceeds of the sale.

Irony of Biblical Proportion

The irony here is not just that a museum devoted to the Bible may have lied to the US Government to save a buck (the museum claims it was an administrative problem). It is also that the museum quite possibly covered up criminal activity and dealings with terrorists who disdain the very cultural treasures that museums seek to preserve.

For example, ISIS recently destroyed the Arch of Triumph in Syria's ancient city Palmyra to the dismay of the world. But the world is fighting back.

Criminal Prosecution of Cultural Destruction

The United Nations is focusing on fighting illegal antiquities trading. It estimates that ISIS has made $100 million in such sales in the last year alone.

The International Criminal Court this year began prosecuting cultural destruction as a war crime. The first such prosecution is underway for destruction of ancient tombs dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Mali in West Africa.

The site was considered an international treasure and drew tourists from around the world, secular and religious alike. But crimes associated with antiquities can and do happen on a much less grand scale all the time.

Buyer Beware

Be wary when purchasing antiques or ancient artifacts at home or abroad. Find out the source. Seek certification. Authenticate purchases. Don't do business with strangers.

As the Museum of the Bible is discovering, it's not worth it. The museum, not yet open, is still under investigation for its shady purchases and paperwork.

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