MOSCOW - Russian authorities said on Thursday they had arrested two men suspected of tunneling their way by night into an island monastery and stealing a Russian Orthodox icon donated years earlier by President Vladimir Putin.
The FSB security service said it had detained two people with the help of the police for a theft that took place last month at a cathedral in the Iversky monastery in Novgorod region, some 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Moscow.
The two individuals, who the FSB said were part of a criminal gang, had stolen golden ornaments and an icon depicting the Virgin Mary at a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, an important Orthodox spiritual center. The icon, it said, dated back to the 17th or 18th century.
Irina Volk, the spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry, said Putin had given the icon to the monastery, located on an island on Lake Valdayskoye, as a gift in 2001.
She said the burglars had reached the island by boat, before digging a passage below the monastery's gates. Once on its territory, they smashed one of the cathedral's windows and broke in to steal the icon, the altar cross and other gold ornaments.
Footage released by the ministry showed armed FSB officers entering a suspect's residence and pinning him face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Volk said the altar cross and the icon had been recovered in one of the suspects' garage and that the items would soon be returned to the monastery.
Icons are an integral part of Russian Orthodox culture and are present at places of worship and used during religious celebrations.