PRINT March 2017


“Safeguarding Cultural Heritage”

Translation of letter concerning ISIS Antiquities Division leadership, November 21, 2014. Original document obtained in a May 16, 2015, US Special Forces raid of Abu Sayyaf’s Syrian compound and made available on the US Department of State website.

THIS PAST DECEMBER in Abu Dhabi, a group of high-level dignitaries convened to discuss an especially horrible facet of the current crisis of Islamist terrorism: the systematic and wholesale destruction of sites and artifacts of world heritage. The conference, “Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage,” was held at the opulent Emirates Palace, where its hosts, France’s President François Hollande and the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, gave remarks, and Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, and ministers from countries around the world delivered speeches.

The current destruction of cultural sites is unprecedented, and differs crucially from the usual collateral damage of warfare. As the tally of eradication mounts—the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, the Northwest Palace of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, the Mosque of the Prophet

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