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Originally published Monday, August 19, 2013 at 8:15 PM

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Devastating museum looting latest casualty of Egypt’s chaos

A 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry and more than 1,000 other artifacts were stolen from the Malawi Museum in Minya in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in memory.

The Associated Press

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Freedom for Mubarak? Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, on trial for murder-related charges in the deaths of hundreds of protesters in 2011, may be released from prison soon after a judge set aside a corruption case against him. The 85-year-old remains in custody in an additional graft case but is expected to be cleared after his family reportedly paid restitution. State media reported Mubarak would remain in jail for two more weeks on that charge. If released, Mubarak would in effect be free on bail while he stands trial in the slayings of more than 800 protesters by security forces and paid thugs during the 2011 uprising that ended his 30-year police state.

Police killed: The news about Mubarak came as Islamist militants killed at least 25 police officers in an ambush in the Sinai Peninsula. State TV reported that militants forced the off-duty officers from buses and shot them execution-style outside the town of Rafah, which borders Israel and the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. The attack occurred less than a day after Egyptian authorities announced police had killed 36 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were purportedly attempting to escape while being transported to prison.

Saudi support: As Europeans and the United States considered cutting cash aid to Egypt, Saudi Arabia said Monday that it and its allies would make up any reduction. Persian Gulf states already have pledged $12 billion — dwarfing the annual U.S. military-aid package of $1.3 billion. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, on Monday referred to Egypt as “our second homeland” and emphasizing that Saudi Arabia will never allow it to be destabilized.

Brotherhood leader detained: Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie was captured early Tuesday in an apartment in a Cairo neighborhood where supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi held a six-week sit-in that was cleared by security forces last Wednesday. Morsi, who has been held in an undisclosed location since his ouster, on Monday was ordered held for 15 days in connection with allegations that he conspired to kill and torture protesters during mass demonstrations by the opposition outside his presidential palace in December 2012.

Seattle Times news services

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CAIRO — As violent clashes roiled Egypt, looters made away with a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry and more than 1,000 other artifacts in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory.

The scale of the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya laid bare the security vacuum that has taken hold in cities outside Cairo, where police have all but disappeared from the streets. It also exposed how bruised and battered the violence has left Egypt.

For days after vandals ransacked the building last Wednesday, there were no police or soldiers in sight as groups of teenage boys burned mummies and broke limestone sculptures too heavy for the thieves to carry away.

The security situation remained precarious Monday as gunmen atop nearby buildings fired on a police station near the museum.

Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a “masterpiece.”

Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth, a deity often represented with the head of an ibis or a baboon.

Under the threat of sniper fire Saturday, Hanna and a local security official were able to salvage five ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, two mummies and several dozen other items left behind by the thieves.

The museum was a testament to the Amarna Period, named after its location in southern Egypt that was once the royal residence of Nefertiti. The area is on the banks of the Nile River in the province of Minya, some 190 miles south of Cairo.

When Hanna asked a group of teenagers wielding guns to stop destroying the artifacts that remained, they said they were getting back at the government for killing people in Cairo, she said.

“I told them that this is property of the Egyptian people, and you are destroying it,” she said Monday. “They were apparently upset with me because I am not veiled.”

The Egypt Heritage Task Force, a group of Egyptian archaeologists who use social media to try to raise awareness about illegal digging for artifacts and looting, said 1,050 pieces were stolen from the museum.

The head of museums for the Antiquities Ministry, Ahmed Sharaf, said that until now, police have been unable to secure the museum. He accused members of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the looting and attacks on the nearby police station.

Hanna said the looting was more likely carried out by heavily armed gangs of thieves.

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