Posted on January 8, 2019
The need for such a specialist unit is largely due to so-called Islamic State, which has destroyed numerous historic sites in the Middle East, including Iraq’s Nimrud palace, mosques in Mosul and certain Roman ruins in Palmyra. The unit will be tasked with retrieving works stolen by terrorists, investigations into looting, the protection of ancient objects and reporting on sites of interest to the British military.
Restricting the flow of money to terrorist organisations will also be a key objective. “Looting and selling antiquities has been proven as a fund-raising method for terrorist groups,” said the unit’s commander – and only current member – Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, who served in the Gulf War before becoming an arts dealer. “Part of our job is about preventing ‘threat finance’ – you have an adversary extracting cultural property from the region you are operating in and then, in effect, sending it back at you in the form of bombs and bullets.”
People with backgrounds as curators, art specialists, archaeologists and investigators are being urged to consider signing up.
“Our staff could find themselves out on an exercise doing operational planning or sitting at a border, checking vehicles for stolen artefacts,” said Lt Col Purbrick. “There’s a strong possibility we’ll be working with allies such as the French out in somewhere like Mali where they are trying to prevent antiquities being smuggled out of the country.” He has identified a historic building inspector from the Royal Navy Reserve and an Arabic-speaking archaeologist in the Army reserve as possible new recruits. “I’m looking for experts in art, archaeology and art crime investigation, leaders in their field who are able to deploy on operations down to the tactical level,” he added.