BERLIN (AP) – Hundreds of Byzantine icons, mosaics, and artifacts plundered from Cyprus almost 30 years ago and smuggled to Germany for sale on the black market will be returned, a judge said yesterday. A German court ruled the larger part of a collection valued at 30 million euros ($36 million) will be restored to the Republic of Cyprus after seven years of legal battles with a Turkish man who claimed he was the rightful owner, said Judge Juergen Hanreich, who presided over the Munich state court case earlier this month. The artifacts, recovered during a sting operation in 1997, were looted from Greek Orthodox churches and museums in northern Cyprus in the chaos during the 1974 Turkish invasion, Hanreich said. Many of the relics broke into small pieces during looting, which made the task of identifying them and their origin extremely difficult, Bavarian police spokesman Detlef Purchelt said. But, he said, «the origins of the pieces being returned, such as which church they came from, have been established beyond a shadow of a doubt.» They include religious icons, wall paintings and ceiling mosaics – invaluable examples of early Christian art. «The artifacts are unbelievably impressive,» Purchelt said, describing the bright colors and intricate tiling of the mosaics. It is not known how many antiquities remain missing. In 1997, Bavarian police, acting on a tip, found the artifacts in three Munich apartments held by Aydin Dikmen, a Turk who is suspected of being a ringleader of the operation. Police held Dikmen for a year as they investigated, but were unable to bring charges because the statute of limitations had run out. On his release, Dikmen fought in court for the antiquities, claiming they were rightfully his, but Purchelt said he rejected the argument because Dikmen could not prove ownership.