Senator targets ISIS antiquities smuggling

Senator targets ISIS antiquities smuggling
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Days after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) tied three hostages to ancient pillars in Palmyra and blew them up, Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), is renewing calls to fight ISIS through its antiquities trafficking.

“The loss of life, obviously the most objectionable,” he said in an interview. “With both the destruction of human life and destruction of these ancient sites or antiquities or artifacts, they are trying to send a message that they’re going to impose a new kind of religious caliphate on any group of people that they come across.”

Casey participated this week in a forum, Death of History: Witnessing Heritage Destruction in Syria and Iraq, in part to promote a bill he introduced that seeks to limit ISIS’s ability to profit off plundered antiquities.

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“If you’re involved in this in any way, or you’re not doing enough to shut it down, you’re helping ISIS. It’s pretty simple,” he said.

In July, Casey and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and David Perdue (Ga.) introduced the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act that gives the State Department authority to impose restrictions on the importation of Syrian antiquities into the United States.

Because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Syria, the typical process of restricting the sale of illicit artifacts — entering into a memorandum of understanding with the other country — doesn’t apply, Casey said.

Some estimates have ISIS’s antiquities smuggling as its second largest source of income, behind black-market oil, which brings in up to $100 million a month, he said.

Casey did not know any specific cases of U.S. citizens who have bought stolen artifacts from ISIS, but said it wouldn’t be surprised if it is happening.

“Where there’s a profit motive, some people are willing to do things which are odious and objectionable and frankly, I’d say, traitorous,” he said, “but I’m not aware of a specific example.”