A gang has stolen rare antique books worth £2m ($2.5m) from a warehouse at Heathrow Airport in a Mission Impossible-style heist.

Three raiders abseiled 40ft (12.2m) down a building while avoiding motion sensor alarms before stealing more than 160 publications, including the "jewel" in the haul – a 1566 copy of Nicolaus Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium worth around £215,000.

According to the Mail on Sunday, the works belong to three dealers and were being kept in a warehouse at the airport before they were due to fly back to the US for the 50<sup>th California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

Scotland Yard said "a number of valuable books" were stolen between 29-30 January.

The raiders were said to have known the books they were looking for as they checked them against stock lists and discarded those they did not want from their list.

It is expected the books will be sold on to a reputable dealer or auction house.

Brian Lake, of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association told the newspaper: "Quite honestly I have never heard of a heist like this involving books – it is extraordinary.

"Nothing like this has hit the rare books trade before."

The Metropolitan Police asked anyone with information to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.