ON-Lion Letter

"Antiquities trafficking in the Middle East is nothing new, and even trafficking to fund terrorism has its precedents," begins an article in the February CTC Sentinel, from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point.

"There is wide speculation and extensive debate about the extent of ISIL's involvement in antiquities trafficking," continue Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Russell Howard, Jonathan Prohov, and Marc Elliott in the piece. 

Howard is president of Howard's Global Solutions and an adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.  Prohov and Elliott are graduate research assistants at the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program of the Middlebury Institute.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports CTC and has supported the work of Howard, Prohov, and Elliott.

"From our perspective," they write, "ISIL's involvement in antiquities looting and trafficking is clear, based on satellite imagery, anecdotal evidence, documentation by concerned citizens, and the similar involvement of ISIL predecessors al-Qa'ida in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq.  Terrorists and looters are opportunists; given that ISIL derives much of its income from various illicit activities, it would be surprising if the group were not involved in what is believed to be the world's third largest illicit market, particularly in a region that is home to some of the world's oldest and most valuable antiquities.

"Recent international efforts to counter illicit antiquities trafficking are a good start, and the need to protect cultural property is beginning to receive the level of attention that has long been called for by such acts as the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1970 UNESCO Convention," according to Howard, Prohov, and Elliott.  "Nevertheless, international law can only go so far.  As public awareness of the trade in black market antiquities increases, nations around the world must take steps to stop it.

"Laws that have built-in enforcement mechanisms will be the most effective way to crack down on this illicit market," they conclude.  "Specific 'choke points' in the supply chain need to be targeted, such as transit countries and cities that are known hubs for selling illicit antiquities.  Just as countries in the region have been called on to take a greater role in the anti-ISIL military coalition, they also must be more proactive in countering antiquities trafficking -- particularly the Gulf States.  Those who facilitate and benefit from this illicit trade, such as the Janus figures and transnational traffickers, must also be targeted.

"Finally, a public-private initiative that involves governments, museums, collectors, and archaeologists should be launched to help eliminate the purchase, transfer, and sale of illicit antiquities, and to recommend further policy actions to reduce such activity.  Efforts aimed at curbing the demand side of the market will help crack down on this lucrative market, but until this issue can be tackled from both ends by legitimate governments, these measures will not stop the surge of antiquities looting and trafficking taking place today in in Syria and Iraq."

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