Cypriot probe backs Mossad on Iranian plot to kill Israelis on the island – official

Police found hit list with at least one name, tracked Iranian suspect as he tried to set up a base for attacks in Turkish north, where Cypriot authorities are largely powerless

Illustrative: People enjoy the sea in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, on Sunday, June 4, 2023. (AP/Petros Karadjias)
Illustrative: People enjoy the sea in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, on Sunday, June 4, 2023. (AP/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus police investigations support claims by the Mossad spy agency that an Iranian-backed hit squad planned to kill Israelis and other Jews in the east Mediterranean island nation, an official said Friday.

The intelligence official told The Associated Press that Cypriot police had tracked an Iranian national identified as Yousef Shahbazi Abbasalilo following information from “friendly intelligence services.”

Subsequent probes into his activities indicated there was a plot for such killings, with at least one person on a hit list, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigations.

According to the official, Abbasalilo initially attempted to set up a base and recruit others in the ethnically divided island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, where Cyprus’s internationally recognized authorities have no access.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. No country recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence apart from Turkey, which maintains 35,000 troops in the island’s northern third.

The fact that the breakaway north isn’t a part of the international legal order is a concern for domestic and foreign security services, according to the intelligence official.

Alleged Iranian terror operative Yousef Shahbazi Abbasalilo, in a photo released by the Mossad spy agency on June 29, 2023. (Courtesy)

Cypriot authorities were on Abbasalilo’s trail in the island’s southern part when he snuck into the north through a crossing point along the 180-kilometer (120-mile) United Nations-controlled buffer zone. Turkish Cypriot authorities then identified him as a potential security risk and deported him to Iran.

The intelligence official’s remarks marked the first time that Cyprus officials have spoken about the case.

The Mossad said last month said that its agents inside Iran seized Abbasalilo who allegedly gave investigators a detailed “confession.” Released footage showed Abbasalilo saying on camera that he received his orders from Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Abbasalilo also said that he had scoped the target and taken photos of the target’s home in Cyprus before fleeing the island. It was not clear if the man spoke under duress.

The information obtained from Abbasalilo led to the dismantling of the rest of the terror cell by Cypriot security forces, the Mossad said. The plotters included Iranians, Pakistanis and locals.

An unconfirmed report from Israel’s Channel 12 news last month claimed the targets of the Cyprus plot included an Israeli real estate businessman and a Chabad House, as well as hotels and entertainment venues frequented by Israeli tourists.

Illustrative picture of a Chabad center on Cyprus, September 2005, in the port city of Larnaca. (Marina Passos/AFP)

Israel considers Iran its greatest enemy, citing the Iranian government’s calls for Israel’s destruction and support for hostile militant groups. It also accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear bomb — a claim that Iran denies.

Recent years have seen several foiled Iranian attempts to kill Israelis in Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia and Greece. The Times of Israel has been told that other attacks have been thwarted without the matter reaching the media.

Israel’s National Security Council warned earlier this year that Cyprus and Greece are countries where Iran is likely to target Jews and Israelis. The countries are popular destinations for Israeli tourists, in addition to having relatively sizable expat communities.

Israeli troops hold a major drill in Cyprus, in an image published by the military on June 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Azeri man holding a Russian passport is on trial in Cyprus, a close Israeli ally, on suspicion that he planned to carry out the contract killings of Israelis living in Cyprus.

The Azeri man also used a similar plan of action as Abbasalilo, the intelligence official said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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