Police confiscate parts of antique Torah scroll

JERUSALEM — Portions of an antique Torah scroll believed to originate from Iraq have been confiscated by police from a Palestinian suspected of illegally trying to sell antiquities.

Experts who have examined the portions have confirmed that the scroll dates back at least 300 years. They are now examining its origins.

It is believed that the Torah scroll was smuggled out of Baghdad during the Gulf War and brought to Jordan. According to some reports, Saddam Hussein offered a large reward, said to be worth millions of dollars, for the return of the scroll once it was discovered that it had been stolen.

Police believe that the portions were brought from Jordan to the territories and that a man there agreed to try to sell them in Israel on behalf of somebody in Jordan.

The suspect, a resident of Jenin, was arrested in Afula Tuesday of last week after police set up a dummy purchase. He was reported to have six portions of the Torah scroll and 73 Byzantine-period gold coins.

Galilee district police spokesman Supt. David Harel said the suspect asked for $50,000 for each portion of parchment.

Harel said the bogus purchase was set up by police from Akko and the Ha'amakim district after information had been collected regarding the suspect.

Experts from the Antiquities Authority confirmed that the coins are authentic.

Harel said the suspect had been arrested under the 1978 Antiquities Law for illegally trading in antiquities. He said the items confiscated would be held by police as evidence, but what happens to them afterward would be decided by the appropriate authorities.

If it transpires that the portions of the Torah scroll and the coins did originate in Iraq, international law may require them to be returned. An Antiquities Authority official said the matter is complicated and would probably have to be decided by the courts.