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Stolen artefacts retrieved from abandoned home in Mosul

By Khalid al-Taie

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Two Iraqi soldiers display artefacts they helped to recover from eastern Mosul after its liberation from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Photo from the National Security Agency Facebook page]

Iraqi intelligence forces have uncovered a cache of artefacts stolen from Mosul University in a deserted house in eastern Mosul that belonged to an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighter.

Local residents led the security forces to the hideout in al-Kafaat al-Oula neighbourhood, Ninawa operations commander Maj. Gen. Najm Eddin al-Jubury told Diyaruna.

Acting on a tip-off, "a special unit went to an abandoned house belonging to an ISIS fighter in the eastern al-Kafaat al-Oula neighbourhood in Mosul", he said.

The unit found an underground storage area that contained dozens of artefacts, including ancient maps and manuscripts, fossils and prehistoric artefacts, he said.

"ISIS stole these items from the University of Mosul's Natural History Museum and its central library after it overran the city," he said.

The artefacts have been inventoried and returned to the university, he said, noting that recovering stolen artefacts is as important as the liberation efforts.

Retrieving plundered antiquities

When ISIS fighters are captured, "we interrogate them to determine whether they took part in plundering artefacts or public property", al-Jubury said.

The goal is to try to find out when and where these items were stolen and who they were sold to, he explained, pointing out that plundered goods have been found in Mosul before.

In late January, security forces recovered at least 100 stolen archaeological pieces from a hideout in eastern Mosul's al-Ziraie area. Most of the artefacts were ceramic jars and plates from the Babylonian and Assyrian eras.

ISIS seized many valuable items from the University of Mosul, said Ahmed Fakkak Ahmad al-Badrani, dean of the university's college of political sciences. Some were smuggled and sold on the black market while others are still hidden.

The university's Natural History Museum contained archaeological treasures that date back to ancient eras, as well as items used for educational purposes, he said.

The university also housed a heritage museum that showcased artisanal products, and a massive central library and studies centre that contained rare books, manuscripts and maps.

"We want everyone to come together and take part in recovering our stolen treasures," al-Badrani said.

Race to recover stolen artefacts

After ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014, it mounted a large-scale campaign to destroy the city's ancient archaeological sites and plunder their contents.

With most of Mosul now under the control of the Iraqi forces, local authorities are pushing to find the stolen artefacts that are still hidden in the city.

To recover Mosul's stolen artefacts, joint co-ordination committees should be established between the local authorities and the security forces, said Ninawa provincial council security committee member Hassan Shabeeb al-Sabaawi.

ISIS fighters might have taken some of the stolen items with them as they fled the east Mosul battles towards the western part of the city, he told Diyaruna.

This means that some of the stolen antiquities could still be hidden in the city, he said, calling for an urgent effort to find and retrieve them.

"We have to step up our investigations," al-Sabaawi said. "Bringing back this historic treasure is the responsibility of everyone."

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