FL: How did you find the stolen boxes at Tabaqqa city and what did they contain? Are they now secured?
DE: When we learned about the robbery, we immediately communicated with the same ISIL leader whom we met before, and he told us that the boxes are in Al Tabaqqa city. For this he went with us to the leader in Al Tabaqqa. We saw only three boxes out of eight, and they contained pottery, tablets and glazed ceramic. As of today we still do not know anything about the other stolen boxes because they are still in Al Tabaqqa, and it's under ISIL control.
FL: Who is believed to have stolen the artifacts from the central bank and where did they hide them?
DE: An armed group called Ahrar Al Sham stole artifacts from the central bank, and we were given information that they are hidden in one of the Idlib villages.
FL: To date have you had an opportunity to enter the museum and review the artifact lists? If so, how long were you allowed to stay?
DE: After an armed group called Thwar Al Raqqa, whose members were local people, took control of the museum, we communicated with them and met their leader, "Abo Issa," and asked him to grant permission (for us) to enter the museum and make inventory. He agreed and guaranteed our safety, especially after we had been threatened by militia gunmen many times not to make public any information about the museum and its stolen antiquities. We worked for 16 days until we finished our inventory.
FL: How much of the museum contents still remain to the best of your knowledge? Can you give us an estimate of the percentage of the original collection?
DE: I think the number of stolen artifacts is around 900 from the Raqqa museum. There are still about 4,500 artifacts remaining inside. But at the warehouse in Herqla, the militias stole everything, but they left one mosaic panel because it was too heavy to move.
FL: What happened in the warehouse at the Herqla site, and what steps did you take before and after the looting?
DE: Herqla is an archaeological site 7 kilometers east of Al Raqqa, and it contained warehouses (belonging) to DGAM and to foreign missions. The warehouses were targets for robbery and looting by unknown gangs on several occasions, but guards and local people of the village prevented them and defended the site as best they could.
We immediately communicated with the DGAM, and they asked us to pile the doors of (the) warehouses with sandbags, take all the important and precious pieces from the warehouses, and hide them in a safe place. And the guard's house in Herqla village was the best choice.
However in mid-November in 2013, an armed group, estimated to be about 100 armed fighters from ISIL, broke in the museum and also the guard's house. They stole all the boxes except mosaic panels and took them to unknown destinations. After that happened, we closed all doors and windows with iron bars.
FL: Which hills and ancient buildings in Al Raqqa governorate have been illegally excavated and smuggled?
DE: We could not get into the hill of "Al Sabee Al Abead," but the guards told us that it was excavated by simple tools. The hill of "Shaheen" was massively excavated using heavy machines and earth moving equipment. The sides of (the) hill of "Hamam Al Turkmen" were also excavated by heavy machines. Most of (the) hill of "East Dammer" was excavated, while the slopes of "West Dammer" were not excavated. The hills of "Almafsh," of "Alsawan" and of "Alsheikh Hassan" were not excavated too widely. And here I should mention that I personally visited all of these sites.
While there are many archeological sites around Al Raqqa, due to their location and security problems and difficulties of traveling to them, we still have no knowledge of the extent of excavations that have been done. It appears from reports when we were last in contact with guards at the hill of "Khwera" and "Ghanem Al Ali" that as of that time they had not been excavated. This may also be the case in areas like the hill of "Al Swehat" and the hill of "Moumbaqa." But guards at the square of the ancient mosque, Al Masjed al Jamee, which is located inside Al Raqqa city, reported that it was excavated and then filled in again. After ISIL occupied Al Raqqa, they totally destroyed the Shia shrine of Wabesa bin Maabd al asdi, which is located in the square of the mosque.
FL: To which country do you think most of the looted artifacts were sent? What have you heard about the methods of transport, and also what have you heard about the gangs doing the stealing and who they are working for?
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