(ATHENS, Greece) — Thieves executed a brazen early-morning burglary of Greece’s largest art museum on Monday, making off with three works, including one by the 20th-century master Pablo Picasso.
The burglars were able to take advantage of the National Art Gallery’s soft security, which was short-staffed because of striking workers, officials said.
Greece, beset by riots, strikes and economic pressure, has had to make numerous cuts in the public sector, including museum security.
The heist was successful thanks to a combination of planning, patience and timing, officials said. Alarms were intentionally set off numerous times on Sunday, leading the guards to disable at least one of the alarms, providing the thieves easy entrance through a balcony door.
With the alarm disabled, the thieves entered the museum and worked quickly, stripping paintings from their frames and absconding with the cubist female bust by Picasso — a 1949 gift to Greece in memory of World War II.
They also took an oil painting by 20th-century master Piet Mondrian and a pen-and-ink drawing by Italian 16th-century painter Guglielmo Caccia, officials said.
An attempt to steal a fourth work — also by Mondrian — was abandoned after a sensor was triggered in an exhibition space, bringing the attention of the guard. The guard saw only the back of a man running away, with no further identification or clues on the thieves.
The heist reportedly took only a matter of minutes. Museum officials were unable to estimate the total cost of the stolen works.
Greek police are continuing their investigation. The museum will remain closed for refurbishment; it is unclear whether the security will be upgraded as well.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
David Williams, CNN
James Griffiths and Shen Lu
Sheena McKenzie, CNN
Michael Pearson and Steve Almasy, CNN