Antiquities Destruction and Illicit Sales as Sources of ISIS Funding and Propaganda

  • April 03, 2017
  • Dr W Andrew Terrill

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has embarked on a campaign to destroy or sell priceless world heritage relics throughout the area under its control. While images of the outrageous destruction of priceless artifacts have been seen throughout the world, the strategic and military implications of comprehensive antiquities looting and ISIS propaganda about antiquities are of vital importance and correspondingly are considered throughout this Letort Paper. In particular, ISIS funding from the illicit sales of antiquities (and high quality fakes) is a serious problem and may help ISIS remain functional even after other sources of revenue are increasingly disrupted or eliminated. Should ISIS experience additional defeats and further loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, an ongoing stream of revenue could fund a nucleus of the organization while it searches for opportunities to rebuild itself and prove its continued relevance through spectacular acts of terrorism. Antiquities, if hidden and trafficked later, along with reproductions marketed as original masterpieces, could give the organization the financial lifeline it needs to stay operational and relevant, even if it is forced to transform itself from a “caliphate” controlling territory to a more simplified type of terrorist organization operating out of portions of the areas it once ruled.