Here’s what we know about Daesh’s antiquities department

Published November 8th, 2015 - 02:20 GMT
Daesh has heavily looted the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria. (AFP/File)
Daesh has heavily looted the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria. (AFP/File)

Daesh (ISIS) is issuing an official license to loot, and by doing so, creating a steady stream of income in areas under its control. 

Nearly two months ago, the US State Deparment released formerly classified documents that proved Daesh is systematically profiting off of looted antiquities. Documents showed the militant group — now controlling swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria — created an antiquities department to provide residents with looting licenses.

In exchange, Daesh gets a nice chunk of the excavators' profits as "tax." The US says that's generally about a 30 percent cut to the militants, though another report says a man was charged as much as 60 percent.

The antiquities department is a subdivision under the Diwan of Natural Resources, "diwan" meaning a central finance office in Islamic societies. Media reports say Daesh had an incentive to make more money off of looting after a crackdown on the group's black market oil dried up its finances. 

Ironically, Quran experts believe Daesh is betraying the faith itself by engaging in trading antiquities. Salafist Sheikh Yasser al-Burhami called the act haram, saying crosses and statues should immediately be destroyed and melted into gold. 

Here are some translations from the documents released by the US, all from Daesh's "Department of Antiquities."

Peace be upon you. Kindly provide all required assistance to the holder of this letter to excavate and search for antiquities and ruins, taking in consideration that the holder has a metal detector.


I Abu Sayyaf al-Iraqi have received from ----------------- an amount of 2,960,000. 

Abu Sayyaf was a former Daesh commander who was killed in a US operation in May.

Peace be upon you. Kindly appoint our brother Abu Sayaf al-Iraqi as the head of the antiquities office as he is an expert in this field. Our brother ------------- can’t run the business as he is simple and unknowledgeable in this field. Also, people who work in this field have weak faith and Abu Sayyaf can deal with them very well.

By Hayat Norimine


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