Unknown assailants broke into the offices of Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency, stealing servers containing archives dating back to 1961, according to a statement from caretaker Information Minister Ziad Makari.
The archives, which contained photos, events, and material of great historical value, are located in a building that houses two ministries, adjacent to the heavily-guarded Interior Ministry which is in charge of security in the country.
The theft occurred in a tightly secured area.
The Information Ministry employees discovered the break-in when they saw the door to the archive room below ground level open and its lock broken.
The thieves also stole five computers.
Makari later tweeted that only a small part of the archives was stolen, and the main database is still accessible.
“The repercussions of the robbery are both moral and material,” he tweeted. “Work is underway, and we will not stop until we uncover the perpetrators and punish them.”
For years, Lebanon has struggled to fund and maintain its state media agencies and archives. In 2022, France and Lebanon signed an agreement to digitize its archives as part of wider efforts to preserve Lebanese heritage and history.
Laure Sleiman, director of the agency between 2009 and 2019 who led the archival process told The Associated Press “I trust in the work of the intelligence branch, but it will all depend on who stole it and if politics will intervene in the investigation as it always does.”
The Information Ministry is currently investigating the theft and is working to apprehend the perpetrators.
Destroying archives of and attacking media outlets was a common practice of the Assad regime during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and is a common practice by occupational forces to erase or revise history.
Lebanon has gaps of hundreds of years in its history due to the prevention of record-keeping by Lebanese for centuries under Ottoman rule.
This latest theft is a stark reminder of the challenges Lebanon faces in preserving its history and heritage in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.
The Information Ministry’s investigation and efforts to uncover and punish the perpetrators are critical in ensuring that the stolen archives are returned and justice is served.