The Cable

New Bill Targets U.S. Buyers Filling the Islamic State’s Coffers With Millions

A U.S. lawmaker is trying to stop American from buying artifacts stolen by the Islamic State.


Famed fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones often said antiquities belong in museums. A new bill introduced this week in Congress agrees.

Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) is offering new legislation, called the Prevent Trafficking in Cultural Property Act, to help the Homeland Security Department block Islamic State sales of antiquities on the black market, a major source of the group’s revenue. It’s not clear how much the sale of these artifacts, looted from museums and archaeological sites, is bringing in, but intelligence officials estimate it’s the second largest source of funding for the group, behind oil revenue. In one region of Syria, the group reportedly cashed in on $36 million by selling plundered artifacts.

The United Nations already has a ban against the sale of items looted from Iraq and Syria. But according to Keating, efforts within U.S. law enforcement to stop their sale are poorly coordinated, and officials charged with preventing the illicit trade are not well trained.

“It takes more expertise to be able to spot what’s an antiquity,” Keating told FP. “These investigations aren’t occurring the way they should.”

The Islamic State profits from the sale of stolen relics in two ways. In some cases, the group offers them on the black market. In others, it serves as a courier between parties, exercising a tax as high as 50 percent on their sale.

The market for these goods is global, but Keating said the main buyers are in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. His bill would require DHS to appoint a lead law enforcement coordinator to stop such sales in America, better train U.S. officials to identify stolen pieces, and improve efforts to prosecute buyers.

Keating said Reps. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) also have signed on to the plan, which he described as a way to cut off Islamic State funding that is just as important as military operations against the extremists on the battlefield.

“It’s something we have control over,” he said, referring to cracking down on the black market. “There are so many things we don’t have control over.”

Photo Credit: Louai Beshara/Getty Images

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