Libya's Ancient Treasures Are Stolen in Heist; Priceless Jewels Taken during Uprising

Article excerpt

Byline: From Sam Greenhill in Tripoli

THIEVES have plundered one of the greatest collections of archaeological treasures in a daring heist in Libya.

A gang drilled into a Benghazi bank vault and looted priceless gold antiquities dating from the time of Alexander the Great.

Unesco - the United Nations' historical treasures watchdog - condemned the robbery, which experts branded 'one of the greatest thefts in archaeological history'.

It echoes events in Egypt during the uprising there earlier in the year, when Cairo's Egyptian Museum was raided. Then, 2,000-year-old mummies were destroyed as looters tried to steal the treasures of King Tutankhamun.

In Benghazi, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution, the collection of gold jewellery and figurines - known as the Treasure of Benghazi - was kept in metal storage cupboards in the National Commercial Bank.

The theft is believed to have happened in May, when Benghazi was battling for survival against Gaddafi's troops.

An arson attack on the bank was thought to be connected to the uprising, but it is now feared it was part of the well-organised robbery. The gang cut through a concrete ceiling to gain access to the underground vault where the treasures were being stored.

The missing hoard includes 7,700 gold, silver and bronze coins, along with jewellery, medallions, bracelets, anklets, necklaces, earrings, rings and gold armbands.

About 50 small monuments and figurines of bronze, glass and ivory are missing and also a small cache of precious stones.

They were crafted during the rule of Alexander the Great, whose empire stretched from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, 300 years before the birth of Christ.

But the collection was not well studied because Colonel Gaddafi's regime rarely allowed foreign experts access to it.

Unesco's Francesco Bandarin said: 'It's called the Treasure of Benghazi. It was in a bank in Benghazi. Can you believe that this treasure has disappeared? We're very worried. There isn't an administration, you have lots of weapons all over - and then you have the take.

'This is what happened in Egypt, in Iraq, in Afghanistan - that's exactly what happens. …