(JTA) — Police in Israel arrested four Israelis suspected of stealing precious Judaica from the main synagogue in Milan, Italy.
The suspects, who were arrested Feb. 5 as part of an international operation, are accused of smuggling the Judaica to Israel for sale to collectors.
All the stolen objects — silver Torah crowns, rimmonim or finials, and other silver and gold objects worth more than $700,000 — were recovered. Police said the four suspects — two thieves and two who received the goods in Israel — belonged to a gang that had carried out similar thefts from other European synagogues.
The theft was discovered on the morning of Feb. 4 when Rabbi David Schunnach opened the ark that houses the Torah scrolls to prepare for Shabbat.
According to Italian reports, the synagogue’s security camera showed two thieves taking the items from the ark earlier in the week. They apparently had gained access to the synagogue by posing as worshipers.
Upon discovering the theft, Schunnach alerted Judaica dealers in Israel and elsewhere. According to Israeli reports, one dealer contacted authorities after recognizing the items when he was shown them for appraisal.
"In the next few days we will know the details of what took place," Milan Jewish community President Roberto Jarach said. "I want to underscore the fundamental importance of the immediate action taken by Rabbi Schunnach to alert his network of contacts in the world of Judaica collectors, the efficiency of the Carabinieri and, through Interpol, the effective action of the Israel forces of order."
Italy’s Carabinieri military police has a special section devoted to art theft.