How ISIS profits by wiping out history: Jihadis drive up the price of artefacts by sparking outcry over their destruction... then cashing in on their notoriety 

  • Group's desire to destroy ancient sites often put down to hatred of idoltry
  • But archaeologist says it creates higher demand for antiquities they loot 
  • Joanne Farchakh said: 'The market will take everything and pay anything'
  • She says antiquities from city of Palmyra are already on sale in London 

The Islamic State's unrelenting desire to destroy ancient history is often put down to their hatred of anything that promotes idolatry.

One archaeologist, however, argues they have a far more practical motivation – to boost profits for their terror war and to cover their tracks.

Over recent months, the group has released a number of images and videos showing its fighters knocking frescoes off temples and razing ancient sites like the Syrian city of Palmyra to the ground.

But antiquities expert Joanne Farchakh says that, far from being destroyed, stolen artefacts such as stone faces and statues – the very idols they are supposed to despise – are whisked out the country to be sold on the black market. 

Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, was a jewel of the ancient world and is revered because its Greco-Roman ruins are so well preserved

Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus, was a jewel of the ancient world and is revered because its Greco-Roman ruins are so well preserved

The Temple of Bel (above) was one of the most prominent structures in the sprawling Roman-era complex 

The Temple of Bel (above) was one of the most prominent structures in the sprawling Roman-era complex 

The site of the Temple of Bel is seen before its destruction in Palmyra, Syria, in this August 27, 2015 handout satellite image provided by Airbus DS, UNITAR-UNOSAT. The hardline Islamic State group has destroyed part of the ancient temple in Syria's Palmyra city, a group monitoring the conflict said on Sunday. The militants targeted the Temple of Bel, a Roman-era structure in the central desert city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.    REUTERS/Airbus DS, UNITAR-UNOSAT/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO SALES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
A satellite image provided by UNITAR-UNOSAT shows damage to the main building of the ancient Temple of Bel in the Palmyra, Syria
Slide me

Razed to the ground: Satellite images show how the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra has been destroyed a day after a Syrian antiquities chief suggested the ancient structure was still standing. UN satellite analysts said the main building (centre) was destroyed along with a row of a row of columns

And as the outrage increases that another historic site will be reduced to rubble, so do the prices these artefacts fetch as their infamy grows.

Ms Farchakh, who has spent years analysing looted sites in Iraq, told The Independent's Robert Fisk: 'Every single antiquity ISIS sells out of Palmyra is priceless. It is taking billions of dollars. 

'The market is there. It will take everything on offer and it will pay anything for it. Daesh (ISIS) is gaining in every single step it takes, every destruction.'

The Lebanese-French archaeologist says antiquities from Palmyra are already on sale in London and other parts of Europe just months after they seized the city.

When ISIS first started capturing ancient sites in Iraq, it would film its fighters taking a hammer and explosives to everything in sight, as was done in Nimrud and Hatra.

But they soon realised that they weren't getting maximum exposure for their warped crusade.

Destroying history: The Temple of Baalshamin was blown up by ISIS last week (above). The terror group has suggested the group could take Palmyra apart piece by piece

Destroying history: The Temple of Baalshamin was blown up by ISIS last week (above). The terror group has suggested the group could take Palmyra apart piece by piece

The Temple of Belshaamin before it was destroyed
This satellite image also confirms the destruction of the smaller Temple of Baalshamin (centre)
Slide me

Flattened: This satellite image also confirms the destruction of the smaller Temple of Baalshamin (centre)

ISIS has already destroyed the Temple of Baal Shamin, the Lion of al-Lat and several statues in the city of Palmyra and has now  destroyed the Temple of Bel (bottom right)

ISIS has already destroyed the Temple of Baal Shamin, the Lion of al-Lat and several statues in the city of Palmyra and has now destroyed the Temple of Bel (bottom right)

Ms Farchakh said: '(ISIS) has been learning from its mistakes. It blew up Nimrud in one day, but it only gave 20 seconds of footage.'

Now, she says, they wait for human rights groups to warn of a site's imminent destruction and seeks to ruin it in stages, like they have done in Palmyra. 

This builds up the publicity and in turn raises the value of the artefacts they steal. 

UNESCO describes Palmyra as a heritage site of 'outstanding universal value'. 

The terror group, which has already blown up several ancient sites in neighbouring Iraq, took over the city in May and last month murdered its retired archaeologist Khaled Asaad, 82, who worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities there.

ISIS went on to destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin in the complex and then blew up the larger Temple of Bel days later. 

Constructed in 32AD, the temple of Bel was dedicated to gods worshipped by the Semites – a group of different cultures in the Ancient Middle East including Assyrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews and Arabs. 

An ISIS militant hammers away at a face on a wall in Hatra, a large fortified city recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, 68 miles southwest of Mosul, Iraq in April

An ISIS militant hammers away at a face on a wall in Hatra, a large fortified city recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, 68 miles southwest of Mosul, Iraq in April

The statue of a robed woman, believed to be the spouse of a former king, stares down at visitors in the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra, was razed by ISIS in March

The statue of a robed woman, believed to be the spouse of a former king, stares down at visitors in the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra, was razed by ISIS in March

Blowing up the buildings where they were once housed also allows ISIS to hide what is being stolen, she adds. 

Her comments come as a reserve colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps who led an international hunt for looted antiquities from Iraq a decade ago yesterday called on the West to deploy forces to protect Mideast archaeological sites from extremists like ISIS.

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, who led the investigation into the 2003 looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, said Western forces should also train locals to take over protecting the sites. 

He criticised the United Nations and NATO for not having done enough to protect sites like Palmyra.

'Of course there is risk,' he wrote in a paper he was due to present today at the annual City of David Archaeological Conference in Jerusalem. 

'But the risks of the failure to act are much worse: more money for the terrorists and the loss of these extraordinary testaments to our common beginnings.' 

Bogdanos said he has testified before UNESCO, Interpol and other organisations about Al Qaeda's use of antiquities to fund terrorism, but no one took him seriously until the rise of ISIS.

He now investigates antiquities crimes in New York as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. 

TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION - OTHER UNESCO SITES DESTROYED BY ISIS IN THEIR RAMPAGE AGAINST HISTORY 

The world heritage sites that have been damaged so far by ISIS across Syria and Iraq

The world heritage sites that have been damaged so far by ISIS across Syria and Iraq

Bosra, Syria

Embellished with citadels, ruins and a second-century Roman theatre, Bosra was once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia.

As an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca it was home to early Christian ruins and several mosques.

Although Syrian rebels recaptured the ancient city of Bosra in Southern Syria in March 2015, video released by APSA (the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology) recently depicted damage to ancient stonework and Roman mosaics at the Unesco World Heritage site.

Aleppo,Syria

As the battle rages on in Aleppo, the ongoing clashes have caused damage to the Unesco-listed Old City.

The eighth-century Great Mosque of Aleppo and Aleppo Citadel are reportedly at risk.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Syria, Saint Simeon Church and the 11th-century Crac des Chevaliers have taken a battering.

Nimrud, Iraq

'In Iraq ISIS are controlling one of the richest parts in terms of Mesopotamian remains such as the very important Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Khorsabad and Roman city of Hatra.

'They have so far destroyed sculptures at Hatra and Nimrud and reportedly blown up a palace in Khorsabad. They have partially destroyed Khorsabad,' revealed al-Hassan.

A film of ISIS militants destroying Nimrud in northern Iraq was released in April 2015 with jihadists pledging to remove all signs of idolatry.

Lauded for its frescoes, Nimrud's ancient ruins and relics that dated back 3,000 years were bulldozed.The losses were confirmed by The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

However, in 1845 British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard took six pairs of statues of lions and bulls from Nimrud which can now be found in the British Museum.

Hatra, Iraq

This circular fortified city is distinguished by its decorative architecture. Built by the successors to Alexander the Great, Hatra was capital of the first Arab Kingdom.

It withstood invasions by the Romans in AD 116 and 198 due to its high walls and towers.

Witnesses reported that the 2,000 year old city of Hatra was razed by ISIS in March 2015.

The Director-General of Unesco, Irina Bokova, and Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), issued a joint statement of outrage immediately after the attacks.

They said: 'The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq.

'This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic Arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups.'

Khorsabad, Iraq

The partial damage to Khorsabad is another loss for archaeological circles to bear.

King Sargon II constructed the new capital in 721BC and in March 2015 his palace was reportedly looted and destroyed.

Mosul, Iraq

Mosul's cultural legacy has been ripped apart by ISIS with Mosul Museum, Mosul Library and Jonah's tomb all attacked.

Iraq's second largest museum had contained collections from Hatra and Ninevah. Most of these sculptures were destroyed.

The library had housed 18th Century manuscripts and Ottoman era books which were reportedly burned.

The holy site of Jonah's tomb inside the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus is significant in Christianity and has also been devastated by ISIS.

However, in recent months as the dust begins to settle on the ruptured foundations of the tourism sites and museums rocked by ISIS, 2,000-year-old relics looted from these ancient sites in Iraq and Syria are starting to turn up on eBay.

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now