#CultureUnderThreat Task Force


Since the Arab Spring, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), culture has become a weapon of war and a terrorist financing tool for violent extremist organizations.

The Antiquities Coalition, Asia Society, and Middle East Institute convened the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force to counter these threats to our world heritage and national security. The Task Force brings together leaders from the heritage, law enforcement, legal, military, and security communities. This is the first time such a diverse group of experts has come together to develop such a comprehensive range of solutions.

Our joint task force report—#CultureUnderThreat: Recommendations for the U.S. Government—details the current situation and puts forward 31 specific recommendations to address the ongoing crisis. It calls for new policies, practices, and priorities for the United States to implement, both on its own and in conjunction with the international community and private sector. These include steps that can be taken by the Obama Administration, Congress, United Nations, and the art market.

We hope that the United States government will view these recommendations as an opportunity to extend its leadership in the prevention of cultural crimes around the world.


The heritage of the Middle East and North Africa is under attack. Terrorist organizations like Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS) are destroying history to erase cultural identity, while looting and trafficking antiquities to arm their cause. This organized plunder and targeted destruction is first and foremost a threat to the people of the region, as well as to millions of archaeological, historic, and sacred sites, and the very “Cradle of Civilization.”

Daesh has razed entire temples at the ruins of Palmyra in Syria and Nimrud in Iraq, dynamited the Judeo-Christian Tomb of Jonah and the Sunni mosque of the Prophet Yunnis, pillaged the Mosul Museum, and obliterated countless Shiite and Sufi places of worship. But Daesh is not alone: from Egypt to Libya to Yemen, cultural crimes have proliferated in the vacuum of political instability and breakdown of security following the 2011 Arab Spring. These attacks are funding conflict and crime, creating long lasting economic damage, and undermining future peace. They are war crimes and a warning sign of impending genocide.

We need coordinated, targeted, and urgent action.

#CultureUnderThreat Map

This map seeks to aid efforts to protect heritage by providing a foundation for identifying #CultureUnderThreat in the broader context of terrorist activity in the region. It shows, sadly, the clear march of destruction by Daesh and its sympathizers and illustrates where deliberate attacks on heritage are occurring and remain threatened.

This phenomenon of heritage threatened by terror groups is not limited to the activities of Daesh.

Cultural sites across the MENA region have been targeted by a variety of terror groups and violent extremist organizations across the Arab world. Although Daesh is capturing the headlines, they are just one of the many groups targeting heritage in the region.

Accompanying text and data review who the perpetrators are and how these activities are being carried out.

Overview of Map Layers
Terror Group Funding Sources Cited
How To Cite


To provide a graphical representation of cultural crimes committed by Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL ) and other extremist organizations in the Middle East and North African region, the Antiquities Coalition partnered with Hexagon to create the Culture Under Threat Map. The interactive map program base includes current high-resolution satellite imagery maps and displays the destruction of heritage sites in the Middle East and North Africa. The Smart M.App’s satellite imagery base paired with the metrics for viewing multiple data combinations provides unique insights into cultural cleansing that were not previously available through standard GIS maps.

The Culture Under Threat Smart M.App temporally illustrates losses to date with easy to use time and date slide bars showing when incidents took place. Unlike previous maps that show a static time set, the Culture Under Threat Smart M.App timeline can be used to understand how destruction has evolved across the broader MENA region at a given time. The ability to view this timeline with any combination of data sets allows for a unique examination of patterns. This allows experts to not only quantify data across a wide region, but provides an opportunity to understand the types of patterns that are occurring which can better inform them in the development of solutions to the critical threats caused by cultural cleansing.

Interact with the map HERE

Overview of Map Layers


The #CultureUnderThreat Task Force was convened by the Antiquities Coalition, Asia Society, and Middle East Institute to explore solutions to this growing crisis and serve as an ongoing resource to policy makers. The Task Force builds upon the 2015 Cairo Conference, where ministers from ten key MENA countries agreed to take steps against cultural racketeering. Their collective action plan—the Cairo Declaration—was reinforced by the #CultureUnderThreat Forum held on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.

The recommendations that follow begin with actions that the Task Force believes the United States government can and must take to end cultural crimes. They are also intended to serve as a guide for leaders across the international community and in the private sector. It is important to recognize that the success of these recommendations will depend on adequate funding being made available, not only for implementation, but for additional research to help us better understand the illicit trade in antiquities.

Ending the cultural crisis in the Middle East and North Africa is a national security and human rights imperative. Adoption of these recommendations would go far in addressing this crisis. The Task Force stands ready to assist in this effort.

Executive Summary Here

Recommendations Here


The 2016 report, #CultureUnderThreat: Recommendations for the U.S. Government, called for new policies, practices, and priorities to reduce heritage destruction and looting, end impunity for cultural crimes, and sever a key source of funding for crime, conflict, and terrorism.

The following update, published on the three-year anniversary of the original report, details the status of each original recommendation, highlighting successes and identifying future challenges in this ongoing fight.


The #CultureUnderThreat Task Force members have reached a consensus around the general report and its policy recommendations, although each member does not necessarily endorse every finding and conclusion. Each has participated in their individual capacities and not as representatives of their institutions.


Amb. Wendy Chamberlin
Middle East Institute

Deborah M. Lehr
Chair & Founder
Antiquities Coalition

Josette Sheeran
President & CEO
Asia Society

Project Director

Tess Davis
Antiquities Coalition

Project Staff

Katie A. Paul
Antiquities Coalition


Amr Al-Azm
Shawnee State University

Jan C.K. Anderson
U.S. National Committee of ICOMOS

Ann Benbow
Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)

Neil Brodie
University of Oxford

Kate Burmon
Northeastern University

Bonnie Burnham
World Monuments Fund (Emerita)

Allison Cuneo
American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Cultural Heritage Initiatives

Emma Cunliffe
University of Oxford

Michael Danti
American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Cultural Heritage Initiatives

Ricardo Elia
Boston University

Marc Elliott
Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP)

Michelle D’Ippolito Fabiani
University of Maryland, Criminology Department

Yaya J. Fanusie
Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance
Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Jason Felch
Fusion GPS

Anita Canovas Forjette
Attorney at Law

Patty Gerstenblith
DePaul University College of Law

David Grantham
National Center for Policy Analysis

Peter Herdrich
Antiquities Coalition

Barbara T. Hoffman
The Hoffman Law Firm

Brigadier General (Ret.) Russell D. Howard
Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program (MonTREP)

Tommy Livoti
Army Reserve

Colette Loll
Art Fraud Insights

Elizabeth Madigan Jost
Morgan Stanley

Shana Mansbach
Inside Revolution

Tom Nagorski
Asia Society

Malcolm W. Nance
Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI)

Kelly Moore
Conflict and National Security Consultant

Nicole Payntar
University of Texas, Austin

Ariel Ratner
Inside Revolution

Victoria Reed
Museum of Fine Art, Boston

C. Brian Rose
University of Pennsylvania

Lawrence Rothfield
“The Past for Sale” initiative, University of Chicago

Kate Seelye
Middle East Institute

Andrew G. Vaughn
American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR)

Corine Wegener
Smithsonian Institution



Learn more at: https://taskforce.theantiquitiescoalition.org