Chase Robinson, director of the Asian art museum’s Freer and Sackler galleries, left, examines artefacts with Yemeni Ambassador Mohammad Al Hadhrami during Tuesday's repatriation ceremony. Image Credit: Washington Post

WASHINGTON: The United States has returned 77 looted antiquities to Yemen, US authorities said Tuesday, adding the objects would be housed “temporarily” in a museum in Washington in line with an agreement with the war-torn country’s government.

The pieces are “64 relief carved stone heads, 11 Quran manuscript pages, a bronze inscribed bowl, and a Funerary Stele” from Minaean tribal cultures in northwest Yemen’s highlands dating back to the 1st century BCE, Breon Peace, the district attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.

The announcement was made jointly by the prosecutor’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and the Smithsonian Institution, which includes nearly 20 museums in the United States.

New York state’s justice department has been carrying out a vast campaign for several years to restore antiquities looted around the world and which have ended up in museums and galleries in the metropolis.

Between 2020 and 2021, at least 700 pieces were returned to 14 countries, including Cambodia, Egypt, Greece, India, Iraq, Italy and Pakistan.

The 64 carved stone heads had been confiscated in the United States as part of a 2012 plea bargain from an antiquities smuggler named Mousa Khouli, also known as “Morris” Khouli, the DA’s statement said.

The antiquities were imported into the US using false documentation.

Yemen’s ambassador to the United States, Mohammad Al Hadhrami, expressed his “deep gratitude” to New York, according to the statement.

“I also affirm my substantial appreciation to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art for agreeing to temporarily hold these antiquities until they are fully repatriated back to Yemen in the future,” Al Hadhrami said.

The Yemeni government and the museum have signed an agreement to preserve the objects for two years, with the option of renewing it at Yemen’s request.

Yemen has been devastated by an eight-year civil war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and plunged the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula into one of the world’s worst humanitarian tragedies.