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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 10:44 GMT
Looted Iraqi artefacts 'found in London'
By Angus Crawford
BBC correspondent

Artefacts looted from the Baghdad museum following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime have been recovered in London, police have confirmed for the first time.

The discovery of the items follows enduring images from the museum of smashed display cases, empty vaults and crying staff, when reporters gained access for the first time.

Baghdad Museum
Guards patrolled the museum after the looting

First estimates of the looting suggesting that more than 150,000 items were missing were wildly inaccurate.

The most recent figures indicate all but 10,000 have been recovered.

But investigators believe some objects were stolen to order and smuggled out of the country. Thousands of valuable bead-shaped seals were stolen from locked, concealed store rooms.

Other important archaeological sites were also ransacked across Iraq, historically known as Mesopotamia and seen as the birth place of modern civilisation.

'Stolen goods'

The Metropolitan Police's confirmation that some of the artefacts had made their way to Britain follows an operation by the specialist arts and antiques squad.

A number of men were arrested, including one at a central London gallery.

Museum of Baghdad
Thousands of the museum's works were thought lost forever

"The men were arrested in connection with allegations of handling stolen goods - one of them was said to be a 76-year-old man. He is believed to be a British passport holder of Iranian descent", Scotland Yard told the BBC.

A stone sculpture found there, but stolen before the war, is thought by detectives to be worth between three and five million pounds.

The frieze, showing scared winged animals was taken from the ruins of a palace in the ancient city of Nimrud.

"It is a stone frieze about one metre square. It depicts two winged sacred guardian animals.

"They are holding sacred fruit from a tree. They are of classic Assyrian design", Scotland Yard said.

International market

Thousands of objects have been looted from museums and archaeological sites in Iraq since 1990 - the process is thought to have accelerated during the most recent fighting.

Some objects have turned up for sale on the international arts market.

A UN resolution in May called on all countries to crack down on the trade.

A new law due to come into force in the UK by Christmas will for the first time specifically target the trade in antiquities.

Police in London say their investigations are continuing.

US investigators have also been helping to recover stolen treasures from Iraq and more than 3,000 artefacts from Iraq's national museum have been returned to date.

Among the stolen items were a statue from 2300 BC and Roman heads of Poseidon, Apollo, Nike and Eros.

The US team say the thieves had expert knowledge and left copies and less valuable items in place of the valuable antiques.

Iraq museum unveils treasures
03 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Baghdad treasures 'mostly intact'
07 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Iraq antiquities 'stashed away'
16 May 03  |  Middle East
Art gangs 'looted Iraqi museums'
17 Apr 03  |  Entertainment
Iraqi treasures to tour US
01 Aug 03  |  Entertainment

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