​In control of Palmyra, ISIS seeks to fill its coffers

BEIRUT -- The city of Palmyra was largely empty Friday, but for the bodies of suspected ISIS opponents, dumped in the street.

The victorious militants swept through a deserted Syrian army base searching for any remaining regime soldiers and showing off the remains of those they had executed to residents.

The fall of Palmyra also puts the future of some of the country's most precious cultural heritage in jeopardy. The city's 2,000 year old ruins are now under the control of ISIS militants who have regularly destroyed cultural relics in the past in other locations, condemning them as un-Islamic. What doesn't get destroyed is looted; trafficking antiquities is a major source of revenue for the group.

Lt. Colonel Nicholas Saad, the head of the Bureau for International Thefts in Lebanon, the country where many of those smuggled artifacts turn up, says the pieces are sold for millions of dollars.

"The people who are controlling the operation -- they will have too much money," said Saad.

Saad explained that most of the pieces don't stay in the Middle East. Instead, they are smuggled to the West where customers are willing to pay high prices, according to Saad.

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Ancient structures in Palmyra, Syria, now controlled by ISIS
CBS News

"You know the mentality of the people in the Middle East. Nobody will pay too much money for antiquities. It is mentality of people in Europe and the United States," he said.

CBS News spoke to Syria's Ministry of Antiquities, who told us that many of the most precious statues in Palmyra have been moved to a safe location over the past few weeks. They said that there haven't been any reports of destruction yet but they remain concerned.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News