Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have reportedly been on a looting spree, ransacking the areas under their control, according to UK-based The Sunday Times.
ISIS has been “digging up” archeological sites and “selling” their findings abroad, according to the report.
The militant group is imposing a “tax” on looted antiquities in the vast region of Syria and Iraq under its control, which was ancient Mesopotamia, according to a Syrian visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, United States.
The academic stated that local ISIS leaders govern the tax rates and anyone that refuses to pay is killed, according to the report.
“What we learnt suggests that Isis is involved in illicit antiquities trading, but in a way . . . more complex and insidious than that reported to date,” Professor Amr al-Azm told the newspaper.
The main market is in Tel Abyad, an ISIS outpost on the Syrian-Turkish border, according to the Sunday Times.
“ISIS clearly is involved and profiting at every level, from extraction to final sale and exit from ISIS territory,” al-Azm added. “The damage is phenomenal. They’re not only digging up known sites; they’re bulldozing everything.”
Nada al-Hassan, head of the Arab states unit at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, described an Assyrian black basalt royal stele from the 8th century BC that the London auction house Bonhams removed from sale in April after estimating its value at up to £795,000.
“That was intercepted by Interpol,” she said, adding that it was a “success story” because there was proof that ISIS had been responsible for digging it up.
So far, fighters have spared the Mosul museum – which was heavily ransacked in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion – yet locals residents say that they have destroyed the 13th century tomb of the historian Ali ’Izz al-Din Ibn al-Athir al- Jazari, who travelled with the Islamic sultan, Saladin.
A rigid interpretation of Sunni Islam condemns the worshipping of saints, and shrines to be a form of idolatry.
“We heard a pledge that they won’t harm anything in Mosul, but with our experience with what happened in Syria and other places, you can’t be an optimist,” said the Iraq office of UNESCO in a statement.