News outlets report that yesterday, May 29, the Taliban captured the 12th-century Minaret of Jam and killed 18 Afghan security personnel tasked with protecting the World Heritage Site. Pro-government forces have yet to re-secure the area. The current condition of the brick structure and the surrounding communities, who were both threatened by torrential flooding just last week, is still unknown. 

At 65 meters high, the Minaret of Jam is the world’s second tallest Islamic tower, and one of Afghanistan’s most sacred and treasured landmarks.  Its capture, if confirmed, marks a tragic continuation of the Taliban’s campaign of terror. The jihadists have razed countless archaeological, historic, and sacred sites, such as the 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan, which Mullah Mohammed Omar ordered dynamited in March 2001.

This destruction has gone hand in hand with the organized looting and trafficking of antiquities by the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other organized criminal gangs with ties to various militant forces. Experts have long feared that these so-called “blood antiquities” are being marketed to unsuspecting buyers in the $26.6 billion U.S. art market. Homeland Security Investigations have seized and repatriated a number of Afghan antiquities—including coins known to have been looted by the Taliban—while others are currently being investigated and prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.