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ISIS stole Bibles from monasteries, now they’re on the black market

Wed, Aug. 16, 2017 Posted: 04:36 PM

By Mark Ellis

Antiquities plundered by ISIS — including ancient Bibles — have made their way from Syria and Iraq to Western collectors, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal interviewed Syrian art traders, recent ISIS defectors involved with the artifacts, and law-enforcement officials in the U.S., France, Switzerland, and Bulgaria to draw a profile of the smuggling operation and its inner workings.

The valuable objects make their way from sites in Iraq and Syria, cross borders into Turkey and Lebanon, and finally are deposited in warehouses in Europe and Asia where they will be sold to dealers in the West.

Muhammad Al-Hassan, a 28-year-old Syrian, began trading antiquities in 2015 after being contacted by a top official of ISIS who sought his help to find Western buyers. Before the civil war, he was an English-language student who studied archaeology in his free time. The official asked him to find European buyers.

He recently sold two ancient bibles stolen by ISIS from a site in eastern Syria to a Russian buyer in Turkey for nearly $12,000. The Russian smuggled the bibles out of Turkey hidden in a truck with vegetables, he told the Journal.

Al-Hassan was paid a commission of 25% and gave the rest to the trader who brought the Bibles to Turkey.

Another Bible dating from the early Byzantine era, around the 6th century A.D., was stolen by ISIS in North Aleppo and smuggled to Turkey in June, 2016, where it is currently on the market for $50,000, according to Al-Hassan.


Mark Ellis