International Terrorism
and the trafficking of counterfeit garments, humans and illicit antiquities

   The media coverage of the Marion True trial for dealing in illicit Italian artifacts has been great for raising public awareness amongst the American people of the huge trade in illicit antiquities. It has also raised the question: are the clandestine trades in illicit antiquities, as well as human trafficking and counterfeit clothing, funding international terrorism. Lets take this question to the people most affected by the issue: the Arabic people of America (and more specifically, Brooklyn and Manhattan).

   The northeast corner of Bayridge, Brooklyn is a great place to go if you want to eat authentic Arabic cuisine and afterwards, drink Turkish coffee. If you find it pleasing, you can also find plenty of hookah establishments where you can smoke the water pipe called a Nargile. This is a large Arab enclave and is a vibrant, hardworking American community. Many of these Arabs who live here work in the garment district in Manhattan. Our interview starts with two Lebanese men in an Arabic restaurant above a busy mosque on 29th st., near Broadway in Manhattan. We will keep their names confidential and refer to them as Has and Abbas.

cvs- Has, are you legal in this country?
Has- No.

cvs- How did you get here?
Has- I crossed the border in Mexico.

cvs- There are numerous Arab immigrants from the Middle East here ( a Columbia U estimate is that there are just over 200,000 Arabs living in New York; their presence in Bayridge has been seen since the 1870s). Some are illegal. How did the illegal immigrants arrive here?
Has- 90% of the Arabs here crossed the border in Mexico. I paid $19,000 to be smuggled in.

cvs- Tell me about the details of your journey. Did you land in Nogales? How did the coyotes treat you?
Has- I crossed the border in Tiajuana. I was held captive until my relatives could cough up a ransom.
Abbas- There is an Arab guy in Mexico who runs the Arab immigrant operation. He drives a Mercedes Benz nicer then all three of us combined could afford. He gets $19,000, $20,000 and even $30,000 a head. When the immigrants arrive in the States, they are held captive in safe houses until they pay more money.

cvs- How hard would it be to smuggle a small artifact into the U.S. from Mexico?
Has- It could be done.

cvs- Abbas. What do you think, is the vibrant trade here in counterfeit clothing helping to fund Hezbollah and terrorism? What about illicit antiquities?
Abbas- No. These people only want to earn a living. Hezbollah has enough funding from inside Lebanon and Iran. Hezbollah has never attacked the U.S., they only are fighting for their land. It is that other guy (Bin Laden) that you have to worry about and AlQaeda. They were getting a lot of their funding from those charities that the authorities are closing down. They would collect money for orphans and keep the money.

cvs- What about illicit antiquities?
Abbas- I don't know anything about that. Here we only want to sell pants and coats.

 


   Now lets leave Broadway and touch base with an expert on the illicit antiquities subject in London. Michel Van Rijn is a former smuggler of antiquities and art who turned into an art world crusader who exposes the dirty side of the global art market on his web site: http//:www.michelvanrijn.nl . While many people disagree with this art world gumshoe's style, many are quick to point out that his info is very reliable.

cvs- Michel, in your book Hot Art, Cold Cash, you point out that Lebanon was the main junction for illicit art and antiquities leaving the east for Switzerland and the west. Is Lebanon still significant in this clandestine trade?
MvR- Swiss laws... tell me about them (smiles). In a country where Jewish bank records are shredded and laws are onerous and protect the rich villains of this world, there are loopholes in the art laws as big as a black hole.

cvs- It has been noted that there is a large, sophisticated network of Arabs in the world (and of interest to our readers, New York) who move illicit art treasures from point A to point B. Ant input?
MvR- Many Arab countries are rich in cultural heritage. The fact that in certain of those countries non Islamic culture is considered 'second rate', therefore, there is a leniency from authorities towards the export of non Islamic artworks. And I have not touched upon the famous word Baksheesh! (note: baksheesh means to receive a monetary tip, or as the Italians say, to wet one's beak)

cvs- What about terrorists. Are International terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda involved?
MvR- Unfortunately yes. It was already common knowledge for a long time amongst unscrupulous insiders in the artworld that part of the funding for these fanatical murderers came from illicit art dealings.

cvs- In your opinion, does this Arab network of wealthy dealers and middlemen help finance international terrorism?
MvR- Absolutely! It is almost a 'crime free' source of funding which has been going on for years without repercussions.

cvs- Without naming names, there is a set of Arab brothers who you have been writing about for years. One of them, who resides in Zurich, has been tried for illicit antiquity trade in absentia in Egypt and convicted. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison; do you think they'll ever get their hands on him?
MvR- Every dog gets his day, we live in hope. Inshallah!

cvs- The other brother operates out of New York. He recently copped a plea on a federal misdemeanor charge for handling a looted artifact. Do you think he got off easy?
MvR- He got an award, not a sentence. Must have had the same lawyer as O.J. The griffin was smuggled from Iran, an embargoed country. Nobody paid attention to that fact.


cvs- Matthew Bogdanos, a man I have a lot of respect for, has just announced that the NY District Attorney's office is creating a fast reaction response team to investigate looted artifacts. The F.B.I. has just created an Art Crimes Squad. What else can US law enforcement do to inhibit the flow of illicit antiquities that fund terrorists who kill innocent hard working people?
MvR- Pray.

cvs- Thank you Michel. You are a gentleman. Keep up the good fight.
MvR- Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak my mind.

 

Back to New York.

cvs- It has been revealed that the 9/11 terrorist leader Mohammed Atta attempted to sell artifacts smuggled out of Afghanistan to raise funds for Alqaeda operations. We know that Hezbollah raises funds by selling cigarettes and other contraband. Is the human smuggling operations that bring in illegal Arab immigrants also helping to bring terrorist cell members into the country?
Abbas- Don't worry about the Shia kids that are coming here. Their families sell a piece of their land to pay for them to come here, where they can go to school. They know this is a free country and their kids can work and make money. They want to get their kids out of there. What happens if Israel and Lebanon start shelling each other? Thousands of people will die. I saw this with my own eyes when I was a kid.

cvs- There are a lot of Jewish people here in New York. How do the two communities co-exist?
Abbas- Here the Jewish and Muslims are good to each other. We all do business together. Why do you think no one fights each other here in New York. They are all good people; but don't forget, many Israelis want to see a peaceful solution with the Arabs. Don't worry about the young guys who want a better life. The ones you have to worry about are the kind that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. All these people who are blowing up bombs are brainwashed. Islam is a peaceful religion. The Jordanian Zarqawi stated that Shia should die alongside Americans. They are even killing muslims! Look at the bombing in Jordan. The majority of Arab people condemn terrorism.

cvs- Abbas, you have helped the U.S. government in the past. Your daughter has told me that she plans on applying to the C.I.A. for a position as an Arab speaking operative after she graduates high school. As a member of a family that has risked much to defend the U.S., how do you think the Arab terrorist stereotype affects the 99.9% of good Arab people in the U.S.?
Abbas- What do we have to do for this country to be respected? We work hard and raise our families.

cvs- Here on Broadway, its like the wild west. Merchants get robbed, killed; there is a lot of police activity against counterfeit clothes merchants. Yet, it seems like a great place for investigators to make friends with Arab people. Is law enforcement forging relationships here? What can they do to generate leads and support?
Abbas- They do it wrong. They arrest a guy for selling drugs or clothes. He agrees to be an informant. He then struts around here like he is a king and everyone knows who he is. Some people are afraid because he can make a false accusation that an illegal immigrant is Hezbollah. They are afraid that a false accusation will get them sent back or arrested. They have to do it right. When I was a kid in Lebanon there was a crazy old man who wore a hat with a feather in it. He used to bring Yasser Arafat coffee. All the kids teased him because everyone thought he was crazy. We used to run up behind him, hit him and get him to chase us. It was later discovered that he was an Israeli military operative. They have to do it right.