FBI Warns US Art Dealers: ISIL-Looted Antiquities Are Hitting the Market

The artifacts may be being used as currency to fund terrorist acts

The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which is now under ISIL control. (AFP Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which is now under ISIL control. (AFP Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a detailed warning to art collectors and dealers to be on high alert for looted antiquities seized from Syria and Iraq by ISIL. Artworks stolen by terrorist organizations, the agency warned, are known to be entering the marketplace.

“We now have credible reports that U.S. persons have been offered cultural property that appears to have been removed from Syria and Iraq recently,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI’s Art Theft Program, in the warning released by the agency.

These artifacts may be being used as currency to fund terrorist activities, according to the FBI.

Workers at Syria's National Museum of Damascus carefully wrap statues for transport, hoping to save them from theft or destruction. (Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers at Syria’s National Museum of Damascus carefully wrap statues for transport, hoping to save them from theft or destruction. (Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

Looting in the region was thrust into the spotlight when over 400 artifacts were recovered in a raid on an ISIL leader’s home last May by U.S. Special Operations; artifacts included 500-year-old Aramaic texts and stone seals from the Iraqi city of Nimrud. Looted artifacts were returned to the Iraq National Museum—though experts have since questioned the authenticity of some of the finds.

The US Department of State's Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs released these 2014 images which show lootings pits dug into the ruins of the ancient city of Mira. (Courtesy: US Dept. of State)

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs released 2014 images which show looting pits dug into the ruins of the ancient city of Mira. (Courtesy: US Dept. of State)

Dealers are being urged to stay vigilant with due diligence practices, and consult the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) Red Lists of antiquities at risk or the State Department’s website for examples of looted art objects to watch out for.

The FBI has also put together a one-page document with cautionary guidelines that it’s asking dealers to circulate with clients and peers.

“Check and verify provenance, importation, and other documents,” Ms. Magness-Gardiner advised. “You have to be very careful when you’re buying. We don’t want to say don’t buy anything at all. There’s a lot of legitimate material circulating in the marketplace. What we’re trying to say is, don’t allow these pieces that could potentially support terrorism to be part of the trade.”

FBI Warns US Art Dealers: ISIL-Looted Antiquities Are Hitting the Market