Lebanon's national news agency's photo archive stolen

Information Minister called the theft of photos of events since 1961 a crime 'of national proportions'

A katyusha rocket is fired from the back of an army truck into an apartment complex during the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanon, probably 1975. The war, which lasted until 1990, was fought between a bewildering array of sectarian, ideological, and foreign armed factions in continuously shifting alliances. Most prominent were the rightist Maronite Christian Phalangists, the secular Palestinian PLO, the Israelis, the Syrians, the Druze, the Shiite Amal, and Hezbollah. (Photo by Express/Getty Images)
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A server containing photographs documenting Lebanon's history since 1961 was stolen from the state news agency's headquarters in Beirut, Information Minister Ziad Makary said on Monday.

He called the theft a crime “of national proportions”.

“The National News Agency’s archive server that includes pictures of all occasions since 1961 was subjected to theft, in addition to the theft of five computers from the archive room,” said Mr Makary.

Mr Makary later clarified that only a small part of the archive was stolen.

An Information Ministry source told The National that the stolen archives were backed up elsewhere.

Mr Makary said the employees of the National News Agency in Beirut's Hamra area in west Beirut were “surprised” to find the door broken and the room's contents taken. The information ministry is situated near to the interior and tourism ministry's, as well as well as Lebanon's central bank.

The Internal Security Forces’ director general, Maj Gen Imad Othman, was called to investigate and find the perpetrators, he said.

“We will spare no effort to help those concerned to uncover the whole truth until the perpetrator is punished,” said Mr Makary.

He said the repercussions of the robbery were “both moral and material”.

The Lebanese civil war — in pictures

The National News Agency was founded in 1961 and the stolen photo archive includes pictures of the country's 1975-1990 civil war, which saw around 120,000 people die and many more leave Lebanon.

Lebanon's economic crisis, which first became apparent in 2019, has been called one of the worst in recent world history by the World Bank.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 98 per cent of its value on the parallel market against the dollar and continues to slip further into the abyss.

Soaring inflation has meant the real value of civil servant's salaries, including those of the security forces, have plummeted. Public sector workers, including staff of the National News Agency, have often gone on strike over their working conditions.

Many ministries are frequently without power.

The situation has pushed many civil servants to take on a second job or go to the office sporadically to save on commuting costs amid surging fuel prices. Some members of the army have taken to moonlighting as taxi drivers.

The crisis, which has essentially led to the collapse of Lebanon's middle classes, has pushed much of the population into poverty, with widespread shortages of state-supplied electricity, clean water and medicine.

Informal capital controls, introduced by the banks in 2019, have locked depositors out of their life savings. The measure has seen some, including one MP and an ex-senior diplomat, resort to taking the situation into their own hands by entering banks and demanding access to their trapped savings.

Amid Lebanon's economic collapse, it is engulfed in governance vacuum. The deeply divided parliament has yet to agree on the next president after 11 sessions, while the cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati is in caretaker status and thus severely stripped of its powers.

Updated: February 28, 2023, 12:59 PM