Egyptian authorities have arrested three people for trying to steal a millennia-old 10-tonne statue of Pharaoh Ramses II.

The defendants had been caught in the southern city of Aswan’s southern quarry with manual digging equipment and a crane, Egypt’s Public Prosecution announced on Facebook on Tuesday.

The suspects are accused of attempting to steal a statue of Ramses II from the ancient southern city of Aswan.

They are suspected of planning to lift the colossus out of the ground and to “excavate antiquities in the area”, the prosecutor’s office said

adding that it had “ordered three defendants be held in custody for four days pending investigations” and asked the police to “quickly investigate others who were involved … in the crime”

The Antiquities Authority in Aswan has proven the “antiquity [of the statue] and attributed it to Ramses II, with a weight of approximately 10 tonnes”, the statement added.

An investigation of the suspects’ mobile phones revealed that they had sent video clips of digging operations and of what appear to be ancient statues via social messaging apps.

Ramses II, one of the most famous pharaohs of the 19th dynasty, ruled for 67 years. He was known as a great warrior and prolific builder who ordered the construction of temples across Egypt.

Egypt has lost countless antiquities to looters, both individuals and foreign governments that colonised Egypt in the past.