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Ancient treasures looted by ISIS may not surface for decades

Hassan Ammar / AP

In a Sunday deep dive, the Wall Street Journal has traced the path of artifacts looted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and found parallels with the Nazi art looting some 70 years prior:

"ISIS's territorial grip is fading fast... but the group's legacy of looting will linger for many years, in much the same way that art looted by the Nazis continues to surface 70 years later. The ancient statues, jewelry and artifacts that ISIS has stolen in Syria and Iraq, are already moving underground and may not surface for decades."

The finds: ISIS allows locals to dig for artifacts, and pays them a percentage of what their finds would get on the market, generating $10-100 million annually from the trade.

The trade: After the goods are smuggled out by intermediaries "often blending in with humanitarian convoys and refugees," or "hidden in exports such as cotton, fruit and vegetables," they're sold to middle men like Muhammad hajj Al-Hassan and Omar Al-Jumaa. Both were students before the Syrian civil war broke out and now trade in stolen artifacts. Al-Jumaa said he once bought a Roman statue from a Syrian woman who hid it under her clothing before crossing into Turkey.

The path: Most artifacts go first to Turkey or Lebanon. Next they're typically sent to Eastern Europe or Asia, before being sold to buyers in Western Europe (oftentimes Switzerland or Germany) or the U.S. They often sit in warehouses for years, and ownership histories are fabricated. It could be decades before many of the artifacts are sold publicly.