The trade in antiquities is one of Islamic State’s main sources of funding, along with oil and kidnapping. For this reason the UN Security Council last week banned all trade in artefacts from Syria, accusing IS militants of looting cultural heritage to strengthen its ability “to organise and carry out terrorist attacks”.
The BBC has been investigating the trade, and the routes from Syria through Turkey and Lebanon to Europe.
It has taken many calls and a lot of coaxing to get a man we are calling “Mohammed” to meet us. He is originally from Damascus but now plies his trade in the Bekaa valley on the border between Syria and Lebanon. He’s 21 but looks much younger in his T-shirt, skinny jeans and black suede shoes. As we sit in an apartment in central Beirut I have to lean forward to hear the softly spoken young man describe how he began smuggling looted antiquities from Syria. “There’s three friends in Aleppo we deal with, these people move from Aleppo all the way to the border here and pay a taxi driver to sneak it in.” He specialised in smaller items which would be easier to move on – but he says even that has become too risky. “We tried our best to get the items which had most value, earrings, rings, small statues, stone heads,” he says.
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