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Mafia offers rifles to jihadists for Libyan treasures

The Italian mafia is selling assault rifles to Islamic State leaders in Libya in return for looted archaeological treasures, according to an Italian newspaper.

Mafia offers rifles to jihadists for Libyan treasures
Leptis Magna, Libya [Credit: AFP]
The feared ‘Ndrangheta gangsters sell on the priceless artefacts to Russian and Asian collectors.

La Stampa reports that the Calabrian network, which dominates Europe’s drug trade, works with the Camorra in Naples to buy Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers smuggled out of Ukraine and Moldova by the Russian mafia.

The armaments are then traded in return for ancient Roman and Greek statues that Isis fighters have dug up illegally in Libya, which was a colony of the two ancient cultures. Isis has ruled over swathes of the country for months.

A journalist from La Stampa posed as a collector to be taken to a salami factory in southern Italy by a member of an ‘Ndrangheta clan from Lamezia in Calabria. For $87,000 he was offered the marble head of a Roman sculpture looted from Libya.

The Mafioso also showed photographs of a larger head from a Greek statue, for sale at $1.2 million.

Antiquities are brought from Libya to the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro by Chinese-operated cargo ships, it is claimed. The treasures are sold on to collectors from Russia, China, Japan and the Gulf. After expanding into Libya, Isis has been pinned back by local militias. The jihadists, however, are believed to have tried to profit from trafficking in artefacts, as they have done in Iraq and Syria.

Libyan archaeologists working to protect the country’s five UNESCO-listed sites have received death threats.

Italian investigators have long suspected the mafia of selling guns to Isis. “In Naples, Islamic militias and the Camorra have been trading guns and drugs since the 1990s,” a veteran investigator said yesterday (Sunday).

The gangsters have also been involved in the wholesale looting of Etruscan Roman tombs in Italy. Trading guns for artefacts with Isis is a natural evolution of its business. The widespread excavation and selling of Greek and Roman treasures boomed in Libya after the death in 2011 of Colonel Gaddafi, well before the arrival of Isis.

A rare 4ft marble statue believed to have been dug up in the ancient city of Cyrene in 2011 and worth $3.2 million was found in a west London warehouse two years after the uprising.

Susan Kane, a Libyan expert at Oberlin College in Ohio, said: “There was a major land grab after the revolution and more earth has been moved since 2011 than in the preceding centuries. Antiquities are turning up and there is a great synergy between trafficking them, drugs and arms.”

Author: Tom Kington | Source: The Times [October 17, 2016]

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