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Interpol to target thieves at Games who stole priceless Olympic artifacts from Greek museum

LONDON – Worldwide anti-crime force Interpol has mounted an operation to try to recover priceless Olympic artifacts stolen from the sacred ancient site where the Games originated.

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Armed robbers made off with artifacts from the antiquities museum in Olympia. (AP)

Robbers raided the Museum of the Olympic Games in Antiquity in the Greek town of Olympia earlier this year and got away with priceless relics dated between 900 and 400 BC. Nothing has been recovered so far, but it is expected that the thieves will try to sell the items during London 2012, when interest – and prices – would be at an all-time high.

Yahoo! Sports has learned that Interpol has assigned a team of experts from its "artworks and cultural heritage" unit to monitor the lucrative black market in artifacts and try to locate the stolen pieces and apprehend the perpetrators.

"We are working to raise awareness of the problem among the relevant organizations and the general public," said a statement on the Interpol website.

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The theft in Greece came after security measures at the museum were scaled back in response to the ongoing financial crisis gripping the troubled European nation. In total, more than 70 bronze and pottery items were taken, which were described by town mayor Thymios Kotzias as being of "incalculable value."

The artifacts date back to the Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods and included several statues representing Olympic scenes, a seal ring and an ancient oil jar used in the original Olympic Games.

The incident was a devastating blow to the museum, which attracts fewer visitors than might be expected because of its coastal location more than 200 miles from Athens. Most of the tourist trade comes from cruise ships.

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"It was tragic," a museum source told Yahoo! Sports. "There has been no news concerning this topic and up to this point [the robbers] are getting away with it. We are not sure if this act is connected to the Games, but we know it is possible.

"With the Games being in the headlines it would be easier for them to move and sell the items, and it is also possible that they followed orders in targeting these items."

Interpol's division specializing in works of art began in 1947, but crimes relating to cultural heritage items continue to spread, with an estimated $1 billion worth of historic items illegally traded each year.

Anyone with information relating to the items is asked to contact the Interpol National Central Bureau in Athens.

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