Cypriot police question Israeli suspects in alleged gang rape

Cypriot police question Israeli suspects in alleged gang rape

Three of 12 detained teenagers maintain silence during police interrogation; DNA results to be processed by next week

Some of the 12 Israelis suspected of gang raping a British tourist cover their faces with their shirts as they leave the Famagusta courthouse to be taken to a detention center, in Paralamni, Cyprus, on July 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Some of the 12 Israelis suspected of gang raping a British tourist cover their faces with their shirts as they leave the Famagusta courthouse to be taken to a detention center, in Paralamni, Cyprus, on July 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cypriot police on Saturday questioned five Israelis, including a main suspect, in the alleged gang rape of a 19-year-old British woman in a hotel room this past week, according to the Hebrew-language media. In all, 12 Israeli teenagers, some of them minors, are being detained in the east Mediterranean island nation, as local police investigate the allegations.

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported that three of the teenagers were exercising their right to remain silent during police interrogation.

Meanwhile, one suspect has been cooperating with the police and may be released soon, an attorney for the suspects told Haaretz.

The investigation is focused on the main suspect who initially invited the British woman to the hotel room in Ayia Napa, Ynet reported Saturday. The suspect told police the sex was consensual and that there was a video on his phone which he said refuted the rape accusation. The video, according to Channel 12, showed the suspect and two others engaging in sexual relations with her. Channel 12 noted that it was not clear when the video was taken and whether it was filmed on the night of the alleged rape or beforehand.

According to the report, the video was different from the footage previously discovered by police, documenting the alleged gang rape on the phones of the Israeli suspects.

The alleged rape occurred early Wednesday at the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel in Ayia Napa, where the young woman and the Israelis were staying separately.

Israeli Embassy official Yossef Wurmbrand said the suspects’ ages ranged from 15 to 18 and that the embassy is monitoring the case closely and stands ready to provide support to the suspects and their families.

According to other media reports, the primary suspect and the victim had been chatting on Instagram for several days before the alleged attack. Channel 13 news on Thursday published screenshots of purported conversations showing the suspect flirting with the woman and asking her to come to his hotel room.

The TV news channel said the woman told Cypriot police that she went to one of the suspects’ rooms at around midnight on Wednesday.

“I knew some of the boys and we did have a relationship, but when I got to the room around midnight, everyone was drunk, I remember everything was blurred,” she said, according to Channel 13.

Channel 12 reported Saturday that the woman told the police two of the suspects held her down by the arms as she cried to be let go. She said that their friends then raped her, taking turns.

“I do remember that until about 1:00 a.m., the friends I did not know raped me, some wore a condom, and some didn’t. They hurt my whole body… one of them held me down, and then I saw at least 12 faces … for an hour or so, one after the other,” she told police.

“After they let me go I fainted, and then I ran out of the room, met friends and they took me half-naked to the clinic,” she said.

According to the Channel 12 report, nine of the 12 Israelis admitted to being in the room when the alleged rape occurred and three refused to answer police questions. Haaretz reported on Saturday that police found five used condoms and 13 condom wrappers in the room where the alleged rape occurred.

On Thursday, a district court in Paralimni remanded the Israeli tourists in police custody for eight days, pending the investigation into the alleged assault.

All 12 Israelis – who arrived at the closed-door hearing with their faces covered –face potential charges of rape and conspiracy to commit rape. None have been charged.

“This is a complex investigation, we are examining whether the sex was consensual,” a Cypriot police official told Ynet. He said the British tourist has remained in Cyprus to assist in the investigation.

Channel 12 also said Saturday that the woman remains in a “difficult mental state” but is expected to identify her alleged attackers in a police lineup in the coming days, after which investigators are set to decide which of the suspects will remain in custody and which will be released.

Channel 12 further reported that the suspects demanded a “confrontation” with the woman, but were rebuffed by Cypriot authorities.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that DNA samples from all 12 suspects have been taken as part of the investigation. Kan said the results would be returned by the end of next week.

Lawyer Ioannis Habaris, who represents four of the suspects, told The Associated Press that prosecutors informed the court that the woman was raped but that it was unclear exactly how many of the suspects were implicated.

Habaris said there was “some evidence” she was involved in a “relationship” with one of the suspects, but that as far as he knew, there was nothing to corroborate the allegation that the suspects had engaged in any sexual act with the victim.

“As far as I’m concerned and as far as the evidence presented I do not have any material or evidence which … corroborates this story,” said Habaris.

Tourist enjoy their drinks in a pub as other walk in southeast resort of Ayia Napa in the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus late Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Israeli lawyer Nir Yaslovitzh, who represents three of the suspects, said there was no evidence that the victim knew any of the suspects and that the 12 Israelis came to the popular resort of Ayia Napa in three separate groups and didn’t know each other. He said he suspected police investigators were trying to set a trap by implicating all 12 suspects.

“I think it’s a trick,” Yaslovitzh told The Associated Press. “They want to know how my clients will [react].

Yaslovitzh told Channel 12 that two of the suspects admitted to engaging in sexual acts with the woman and that it was consensual. He added that all the other suspects insist they had no sexual contact with the woman.

“I think the police is starting to put together a better picture of what occurred [that night], and I’m confident that in the next few days, the investigation will take a new turn,” he said on Saturday to Channel 12.

A tourist near a sculpture that reads ‘I Love Ayia Napa’ after posing for photos in the southeast resort of Ayia Napa in the easter Mediterranean island of Cyprus late Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors told the court the scratches and other injuries to the woman’s lower body were deliberately inflicted. Prosecutors also said there was hotel security camera footage of events from the evening and the police were still reviewing the material.

After the hearing, some of the suspects — again with their faces covered to disguise their identity — alleged to reporters that they had been beaten by Cypriot police.

Meanwhile, Israeli tourists who checked into the Pambos Napa Rocks Hotel on Friday told media outlets the 2-star hotel put them in the room where the alleged assault occurred, before it had been cleaned.

In this file photo taken on September 7, 2017, tourists sunbathe at the beach in the resort town of Ayia Napa in southeastern Cyprus. (Florian Choblet/AFP)

“We went on the balcony and some kids told us that we were staying in the room where the rape happened,” Noa Teller told Channel 13. “Later that night we found a condom under the bed, a bottle of alcohol that wasn’t ours, and a knife in the cupboard.”

Teller showed the trashed room to Israeli reporters at the hotel, who filmed and photographed the unmade beds, stains on the floor, handprints on the walls, and a used condom on the floor.

Cypriot police arrived at the Pambos Napa Rocks after the reports to collect the evidence that was left behind.

In response to the alleged assault, Ayia Napa Mayor Yiannis Karousos said that tougher policing was needed and that he would introduce legislation to clamp down on alcohol consumption and rowdiness in the popular resort town.

AP contributed to this report.

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