First Published: 2016-12-16

US claims antiquities looted by IS to block their resale
Washingtons action aims to warn would-be collectors any purchase of stolen Syrian, Iraqi antiquities they might make could be contested.
Middle East Online

WASHINGTON - The United States filed suit in court Thursday to recover an ancient serpentine ring and gold coins trafficked by the Islamic State group in a move aimed at preventing stolen Syrian and Iraqi antiquities from disappearing into collectors' hands.

The US attorney filed a forfeiture claim in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the antiquities, thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Officials have not said where the treasures might be, but the action aims to warn would-be collectors that any purchase they might make could be contested.

The antiquities, including a neo-Assyrian stele, were identified from cell-phone pictures and other electronic media seized from powerful IS commander Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in a US Special Operations raid in eastern Syria in May 2015.

Abu Sayyaf was in charge of raising money for IS from the antiquities trade, selling or taxing looted artifacts from the ancient and culturally rich region.

The group is believed to have raked in several million dollars from the lucrative trade, the US State Department said last year.

US authorities recovered extensive records of the trade in the raid, including pictures, documentation of taxes collected and sales made. There was even a claim by traders who said an IS official cheated them out of some valuable items.

Assistant US Attorney Arvind Lal said the four items named in the seizure filing, the first of its kind, were the first which could be clearly identified and described for the legal action.

"When the raid was conducted on Abu Sayyaf, the United States collected a lot of electronic media," like cellphones, he said.

"There were many, many images on that electronic media" of ancient artifacts.

The court action formally laid US claim to the items based on US sanctions against IS as a foreign terrorist group.

The aim, Lal said, is to put the global antiquities trade on notice that anyone who buys them will not have legal title to them.

Lal would not say if the US knows where the items are: a stunning gold ring with a serpentine cameo face of the Greek goddess Tyche from 330-400 AD; second-century Roman coins featuring Antoninus Pius and Emperor Hadrian Augustus Caesar; and a cuneiform stele possibly dating to the ninth century BC.

Lal said the aim is not for the US to take permanent control of the items, but eventually to return them to the authorities who are the rightful owners.

"Antiquities seized in the Abu Sayyaf raid were handed over to Iraq," he noted.

 

10 killed in Toronto “deliberate” van attack

Yemen Huthi political leader killed in coalition raid

Rouhani warns Trump against betraying nuclear deal

Saudi king to launch 'entertainment city'

Iraq’s ex-football stars from sports to politics

Syria's Idlib 'big new challenge' for international community

UNRWA chief says Palestinian aid $200 million short since Trump cuts

Bad memories resurface at Raqa’s mass grave

Turkey newspaper chief slams journalist terror trial

Setback for Yemen rebels after strike takes out leader

Saudi issues Islamic sukuk sale to finance deficit

Yarmuk, an epicentre of Syria's bloody conflict

Egypt’s Eurobond succeeds but risks remain

Egypt former anti-corruption chief gets five years jail

Philippines apologises to Kuwait over 'maid rescues'

Iran urges EU not to pay Trump ‘ransom’ over nuclear deal

UAE to finance project to rebuild Mosul's Grand al-Nuri Mosque

EU, UN begin major conference for Syria aid

New tensions rise between old rivals Turkey and Greece

Nine people killed in Toronto van attack

Syria security chief refuses Lebanon court appearance

Air raid kills dozens at Yemen wedding

Algeria draws Europe’s ire by cutting imports, boosting trade with China

Russia says no decision yet on delivery of S-300 missiles to Syria

French MPs adopt controversial immigration bill

Qatar Airways ‘robust’ despite large losses

IS threatens to attack Iraqi polling station

Jordan sounds the alarm over rising online crimes

Yemen forces clash with jihadists in Taez

Paris attacks suspect gets 20 years over Brussels shootout

Jailed Egyptian photographer wins UN press freedom prize

14 Saddam-era officials still jailed in Iraq

Gaza death toll rises to 40 as Palestinian dies of wounds

HRW says African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Four British pilgrims killed in Saudi road crash

HRW warns Egypt fight against IS threatens humanitarian crisis

Iran, Israel trade blame for surge in hostilities over Syria

Iran vows to resume enrichment if US quits nuclear deal

UAE accuses Qatari jets of ‘chasing’ passenger flight

Israel rubbishes claims Mossad behind Malaysia assassination

Syrian refugees are not going home anytime soon

Resumption of direct flights from Moscow brings hope to Egypt’s tourism sector

Saudi finalises drone regulation after security alarm

Will Lebanon have more women MPs after May 6 poll?

Saudi shoots down ‘toy drone’