Now They Are  Stealing Our Heritage! [Archives:1999/14/Front Page]

April 5 1999

“It was definitely an inside job,” he said. Ahmed Al-Anisi raised his hands high, as if he was reaching out to God. He was in shock, and total disbelief and disgust. The old man was there the night the Grand Mosque was looted. 
Mohammed Al-Tair is in charge of the outer library of the mosque. He is now a worried man, though ‘his’ library was safe, this time. “Our officials have brought us to this. They do not care, and they would even assist in the plunder if they were to profit from it,” he added. 
Another by-stander said that the whole operation was too well-planned to be the work of common thieves. “Influential people linked to international markets for ancient scrolls and manuscripts must be in on this. Otherwise, how can you explain this?” 
Accountability, law and order, and other modern values and morals are not the rule of the day in Yemen today. Hence the prevalence of crimes. 
There is a general feeling among the Yemeni public that their present, and even their future is being compromised. 
Recently, there has been a new twist. The past is being stolen as various ancient scrolls, manuscripts, statutes, and other relics of the nation’s heritage are looted and sold in foreign lands. 
The Grand Mosque has five main gates. These lead to an open space or compound, on one side of which is the alter and praying area. At the center of the compound’s open space is a small store-room with a dome. Its top floor houses some of the most precious scrolls and manuscripts. That was the target of the thefts last week. 
The daring nature of the operation has left many people puzzled. It happened in the early hours of Wednesday – Marfch 31st – around 2:00 a.m. The thieves ‘opened’ the eastern main gate, and locked it from inside. They crossed the open space and headed for the store-room, which has a double door – one wooden on the outside, and then bolted and supported by a metal door. The thieves literally broke down the two doors, and went about their business. 
As was expected, the authorities set up a joint committee to investigate. It is made up of representatives from the Ministry of Endowment, which has jurisdiction over the Grand Mosque, the Political Security Organization, and the Criminal Investigations Department. Yemen Times attempted to collect more details. A joint committee was set up to investigate the crime. 
The committee was working hard to keep information from the media. It exercised a black-out on information. One PSO officer even tried to expel the YT journalists. However, he and his gang quickly discovered that trouble was coming their way. They decided to leave the YT journalists alone, for a while. 
The Yemen Times talked to several officials, but got no satisfactory answer. 
“We don’t know what they stole. We are still investigating the crime,” said Colonel Nasser Al-Masri, Manager of the Old Sanaa Investigations Office, and a member of the committee set up to investigate. 
Abdul-Malik Mansoor, Minister of Culture & Tourism, described the event as sad. “The mosque is under the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Guidance. It is not under our jursidiction,” he said though he agreed that the looted goods are important part of our heritage, and thus part of the tourist attractions and culture. 
Professor Yusuf Mohammed Abdullah, Chairman of the General Authority for Manuscripts, Antiquities and Museums (GAMAM) said “This crime points to a serious degeneration in our security standards.” He should know. In November 1997, the GAMAM premises were looted of various documents. “It was an inside job. I will not be surprised if some officials are implicated in this new crime,” he added.