Africa

Looted Libyan treasure 'in Egypt'

Libya map

Libya's National Transitional Council says it believes several hundred ancient coins stolen from a bank in Benghazi during the Libyan uprising have turned up in Egypt.

More than 7,000 priceless coins and other precious artefacts were taken during a robbery in May while the city fought for its survival against forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi.

At the time, a fire at the bank was blamed on the fighting. Now it is thought to have been part of the audacious robbery.

The thieves targeted a collection known as the Treasure of Benghazi.

It included more than 10,000 pieces, with coins dating back to Greek, Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic times, but also other treasures such as small statues and jewellery.

Most had been discovered during the Italian occupation of Libya and were taken out of the country.

They were then returned to Libya in 1961 after the country's independence.

The collection has been kept in the vault of the Commercial Bank of Benghazi ever since, waiting for the opening of a museum that was never built.

The coins were never photographed or documented and seemed to have been forgotten, according to Dr Saleh Algab, the chairman of the Tripoli Museum.

Although not the only collection of ancient coins in Libya, Mr Algab said they were a hugely valuable representation of the mosaic of Libyan history - an important reminder for Libya's sometimes fractious, at times antagonistic, regions and ethnic groups that they all belong in one Libya, he said.

Inside job?

Fadel al-Hasi, Libya's acting minister for antiquities, told the BBC there were suspicions the robbery could have been an inside job.

The bank's employees have been questioned several times, he said.

Burglars drilled through the concrete ceiling of the bank vault to reach the coins.

They targeted the most valuable items only.

Mr al-Hasi alerted Interpol about the theft in July. He said international antiquities markets were being monitored.

Several hundred coins may have been recovered in Egypt, but that was still to be confirmed, he added.

Libya's recent tumultuous political events meant the theft of the coins had been a bit sidelined, he said, but that he or one of his colleagues would be travelling to Egypt in the next week or two.

There have also been reports of precious coins appearing at the daily gold market in Benghazi.

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