Gold ring with carved gemstone. This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred. Finger not included. Photo courtesy of Abu Sayyaf’s raided archives.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was on the lookout for four artifacts it believes were looted from for Syria and sold to benefit war chests belonging to ISIS (also known as ISIL and De’esh).

The forfeiture complaint spells out how authorities traced the items thanks to the records of Abu Sayyaf, the late ISIS antiquities minister who was in charge of taxing and permitting looters who were taking advantage of chaos in the war-torn country to dig up ancient artifacts for profit.

The complaint goes on to describe how one of Sayyaf’s underlings even kidnapped the 16-year-old son of one of the antiquities merchants at gunpoint. This came following a dispute over tariffs on relics and gold that had been dug out of the ground with pick axes. In the end, Sayyaf was ordered to apologize to the boy’s family, and the underling was directed to go to shari’al law and military course.

Sayyaf died in a May 2015 raid in Syria that recovered a number if Iraqi pieces (which have been since repatriated). Here’s the DOJ release on the matter.


United States Files Complaint Seeking Forfeiture of Antiquities Associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

Dec. 15, 2016

WASHINGTON – The U. S. Department of Justice announced today that the United States has filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of multiple antiquities associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh. The complaint alleges that ISIL, which is designated by the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, markets and sells antiquities to finance its terror operations.

The lawsuit marks the first time that the United States has filed an action to forfeit antiquities that are foreign assets of ISIL.
The action, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, specifically seeks the forfeiture of four archaeological items that were depicted in photographs found during a raid of a residence of Abu Sayyaf, a senior leader within ISIL, near Deir Ezzor, Syria, in May 2015. The items include a gold ring, two gold coins, and a carved stone. They date to ancient times and are believed to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The FBI is pursuing recovery of these items. The lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia following an investigation into items seized in the raid. During the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged with U.S. military forces.

According to the civil complaint filed today, the United States recovered data from electronic media during the raid, including photographs of the four items at issue in the complaint. The complaint also makes public documents recovered from the raid that reveal significant information about the organizational structure of ISIL, and how ISIL created a sophisticated bureaucratic system for extracting wealth from sites containing materials that are important to the cultural heritage of the people of Syria and Iraq. For example, according to the lawsuit, excavation permits and receipts of collections written on ISIL letterhead (which are attached to the complaint) were passed among members of the Antiquities Department. Abu Sayyaf referred to himself in these documents as the President of the Ministry of Natural Resources Antiquities Department. There are also discussions of depositing the proceeds of ISIL’s antiquities trafficking into ISIL’s treasury.

According to analysis by antiquities experts, the documentary style, lighting, and focus of the photographs indicate that the photographed antiquities were prepared for marketing in order to sell the items internationally. The subsequent investigation has revealed that ISIL sold antiquities in U.S. dollars, including of at least one of the antiquities in the complaint.

Here are details on the pieces, according to the complaint:

1) Gold ring with carved gemstone (pictured above). This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred.  The image may be that of Tyche, the daughter of Greek gods Aphrodite and Zeus or Hermes.

 

Gold coin featuring Antoninus Pius.

2) Gold coin featuring Antoninus Pius. This coin is believed to be Roman, dating to approximately 138-161 A.D., and is sourced to any large, urban Hellenistic or Roman city in Syria, including Apamea, Palmyra, Dura Europos, or Bosra.

 

Gold coin featuring Emperor Hadrian

3) Gold coin featuring Emperor Hadrian Augustus Caesar. This coin is believed to be Roman, dating to approximately 125-128 AD, was probably minted in Rome, and is sourced to any large, urban Hellenistic or Roman city in Syria, including Apamea, Palmyra, Dura Europos, or Bosra.

 

Carved Neo-Assyrian Stone.

4) Carved Neo-Assyrian Stone. This is believed to be the upper portion of a round‐topped stella carved with an image of a provincial official, most likely a eunuch, facing left, with his right forearm and hand raised. This item is believed to be from the archaeological site of Tell Ajaja in the Khabur region of northern Syria.

Reading in the forfeiture complaint, we can find out more about piece No. 4.

The inscription on Defendant Property 4 may be translated as: “To the god Samnuha . . . , to whom it is good to pray, who dwells in the city . . . , the great lord, his lord: for the life of Shalmaneser (III), king of Assyria, his lord, Samas-abuya, governor of the cities Assur, Nasipina, Urakka, Masaka, Nabula, Kahat, Sura, Tidu, Sadikanni, Bursamina, Na[.]” According to the inscription, the stela is understood to depict a local governor named Shamash-abuya. This governor dedicated his stela to a local god, Samnuha, in the hopes that Shalmaneser III (859 – 824 B.C.), king of the Assyrian Empire, would be healthy. This was a typical gesture for a local governor to have made to his overlord. This item is believed to be from the archaeological site of Tell Ajaja in the Khabur region of northern Syria, based on the list of cities mentioned in the text of the stela, the dedication to the deity Samnuha, and the list of cities mentioned in the text. ISIL has controlled much of the Khabur region in Syria.

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