First Published: 2016-12-16

US claims antiquities looted by IS to block their resale
Washington’s 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.

 

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

Turkey's EU minister rejects any option other than full membership

Sudan clamps down on journalists covering bread protests

Tribal feuds spread fear in Iraq's Basra

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria

Lebanese intelligence service may be spying using smartphones worldwide

Egypt's Sisi sacks intelligence chief

Trump dashes Netanyahu’s hope to move US embassy to Jerusalem

Cyprus denies bail for Israeli organ trafficker

Rising Yemen currency sparks hopes of relief

Turkish ministries to investigate underage pregnancy cover-up

Iraq PM launches online appeal for election allies

Iran central bank sees claim for billions from German stock market blocked

Iraq signs deal with BP to develop Kirkuk oil fields

Israeli occupation forces raid Jenin, kill Palestinian

HRW chief says 'Nobody should be forcibly returned to Libya'

IS poses threat to Iraq one month after 'liberation'

Seven years since ousting dictator, Tunisians still protest

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'