Art law Germany

9/11 hijacker attempted to sell Afghan loot

Mohamed Atta offered artefacts to German archaeologist

LONDON. The German secret service has testimony that relates to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s attempted sale in Germany of looted Afghan artefacts, according to Giuseppe Proietti, secretary general of Italy’s ministry of culture. Proietti has made repeated references to this testimony in public speeches delivered since 2005. His remarks have not been widely reported but are mentioned in the autumn issue of the Journal of Art Crime.

According to Proietti, in 1999 Atta contacted an archaeologist at the German university of Göttingen with an offer to sell Afghan artefacts. An unidentified archaeologist, who declined the offer, told the German secret service that Atta had said he needed the money to pay for flying lessons in the US.

Atta moved to Germany from his native Cairo in 1992 to study at the Hamburg University of Technology. It was there that he became increasingly radicalised, eventually forming the so-called Hamburg Cell of terrorists who organ­ised the 2001 attacks on the US.

Atta spent several months in Afghanistan in late 1999 when he met Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders and trained to be a terrorist; it is possible that he also made arrangements to sell looted antiquities in Germany.

In 2000 he started learning to fly in Florida. Atta was the hijacker in control of American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.

The market for Afghan antiquities is so strong that the government has issued a list of the most significant missing museum pieces for border police.

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17 Feb 14
15:18 CET


The suggestion by Wayne Sayles that the Iraq National Museum was not looted is so fantastic that it is almost not worth taking the time to refute, but I would just point any skeptics to Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos' book or to my own Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum for the facts. Neither of us is an archaeologist with a cultural property nationalist agenda.

1 Feb 10
1:58 CET


I set up an office for the Society of the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage in Kabul in the year 2000. The country was awash with antiquities that in most cases came from illegal excavations, you could also buy them freely on the market. Many foreigners tried their luck at buying antiquities (dirt cheap) and reselling them abroad, as they did with precious stones. So even if the story's true, there's nothing remarkable about it. Moreover in 2001, after the Taliban had destroyed the Buddha's of Bamiyan, I traveled to the main regional antiquities market, in Peshawar, to investigate reports that the Taliban and/or their Arab 'guests' were selling Afghan antiquities. I could find no evidence for that. So indeed, this seems to be a tendentious 'news'item

30 Jan 10
15:6 CET


What interests me is why this story should appear now as some kind of exciting and fresh news. Reports about Atta wanting to sell antiquities in Germany came out years ago, but there seems no evidence whatsoever that he, or any other Al-Qaeda person, ever seriously attempted to finance their actions using smuggled antiquities of any kind. I am quite surprised that the Art Newspaper did not do a little background check before publishing this.

28 Jan 10
15:29 CET


Since when does a public speech by an Italian politician qualify as factual news? This story is almost as ancient as the supposed artifacts that Atta was reportedly trying to sell. It never went anywhere the first couple times around because of the unreliable and unverifiable sources and because the incident, even if true (which is questionable) is minor and isolated. Archaeologists keep dredging this up, just as they repeatedly dredge up the Baghdad Museum "looting" and Destruction of Babylon myths - both shown to be purposeful fabrications for the most part. That is to be expected from archaeologists with a cultural property nationalist agenda, and perhaps from politicians seeking a soap box, but for the Art Newspaper to lend credence to this sensationalizing is very disappointing.

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