Thursday, February 5, 2015
News, Spain: ISIS Gang of 'antique smugglers who sold looted treasures to fund ISIS' busted in Spain
A gang of alleged antique smugglers have been arrested after being suspected of selling stolen Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists.
Spanish police claim the network were operating out of mosques in Barcelona after they raided a shipment which they believe originated in Egypt.
They added that the gang had gone to great lengths to try and hide what they were smuggling - which included human figurines, animal figurines and small bronze statues worth several hundred thousand euros.
The plundering of antiquities, particularly from the Middle East, has sky-rocketed since the fighting, with much of the money landing in the pockets of terrorists, say archaeologists and international watchdogs.
Priceless pieces of history snatched from illicit diggings or swiped from museum cases have become one of the four most common commodities – next to drugs, weapons and human beings – to be trafficked by smugglers, according to United Nations investigators.
Iraqis have been urged to protect the nation’s trove of antiquities as assaults waged by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and AL-Sham (ISIS) left relics there at risk from looting.
UNESCO has also reported that in Egypt, terrorist attacks in recent years have targeted pieces of cultural heritage.
Officials from the Spanish civil guard who carried out the operation said they believed money raised was going directly to fund jihadists.
Four Egyptian men and one Spanish man were arrested in the city as a result of the police operation that also led to the seizure of 36 pieces of artwork in Valencia, which are believed to have originally come from Egypt.
Experts from the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid say they suspect the antiquities had been looted from sites around the Egyptian towns of Saqqara and Mit Rahina south of the capital Cairo.
They were in a container that came from the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria and was being shipped to Barcelona.
A police spokesman said: "This gang had gone to extreme lengths to avoid discovery. They operated in a network that was centered around mosques and other venues located in downtown areas in the city of Barcelona."
Those arrested face charges of smuggling cultural goods, money laundering, and membership of an international criminal organization.
Spanish police also confirmed that they were stepping up monitoring ports, airports and border control points following fears that there would be an increase in similar types of smuggling in particular with regards to shipments from the Middle East where conflicts are being fought.