Cyprus arrests 2 Iranian nationals over suspected plot to attack Israelis

Prime Minister’s Office says Mossad worked with Cypriots to foil attempt; target said to be Israeli businessman; detainees are reportedly political refugees with ties to IRGC

FILE -- A motorcyclist police officer escorts and guards a police van, Nicosia, Cyprus, June 24, 2019 (Petros Karadjias/AP)
FILE -- A motorcyclist police officer escorts and guards a police van, Nicosia, Cyprus, June 24, 2019 (Petros Karadjias/AP)

Cypriot authorities have arrested two Iranian suspects over an alleged plot to target Israelis in the Mediterranean island nation, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Sunday in a joint statement with the Mossad intelligence agency and the National Security Council.

According to the statement, Cypriot security forces uncovered and thwarted the plot in early November, in collaboration with the Mossad. The two suspects, named as Mohammad Reza Ebadi Arablu and Sa’id Ebadi, have been detained since.

Arablu is a known terror operative, suspected of involvement in a 2022 Iran-backed attempt to assassinate a prominent Israel-Georgian businessman living in Tbilisi. The extraterritorial arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, was implicated in the Georgia assassination plot.

Channel 12 reported Sunday night that the intended target in Cyprus was also an Israeli businessman, who resides on the island country. The businessman was alerted and left Cyprus last month, according to the report.

The Cypriot investigation uncovered a number of fake identity documents used by the two Iranian suspects, who were said to be political refugees with ties to the IRGC. They arrived in Cyprus via Turkey, Channel 12 reported, and one of them was involved in a previous terror plot in Cyprus.

They were reportedly in the early stages of obtaining intelligence on Israeli targets, as well as other potential Western targets outside Cyprus.

The newspaper Kathimerini Cyprus said the two Iranians were awaiting deportation.

The investigation is ongoing.

The foiled attack is “yet another example of the proxy method not working for Iranian terror organizations,” the Prime Minister’s Office statement declared, adding that it came against the backdrop of a sharp rise in Iranian-backed terror attempts on Israel and its citizens since October 7.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, kill some 1,200 people amid acts of horrific brutality and seize over 240 hostages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response to the massacre, launching a campaign that has left vast swaths of the Strip in ruins. The number of Gazan civilians killed in the war has drawn international criticism and pressure on Israel, along with a rise in antisemitic incidents and attacks around the world.

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an Israeli strike early on December 10, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The National Security Council noted in the statement that many Israelis have traveled to Cyprus over the past two months to escape tensions in Israel as the war with Hamas continues. While there is currently no travel warning in place for the island, “the Iranian presence in northern Cyprus” is of concern, it said.

“The Mossad, along with its security and intelligence partners, continues to operate using a variety of methods to eradicate threats of terror from Iran and its proxies, and to protect the State of Israel, Israelis, and Jewish people around the world,” the Sunday statement added.

In June, Cypriot police thwarted a terror attack targeting Jews and Israelis, which was believed linked to the IRGC, a branch of the Iranian army that is considered a terror organization by several countries, including the United States.

According to Cypriot intelligence in that case, an Iranian national identified as Yousef Shahbazi Abbasalilo was apprehended following information from “friendly intelligence services,” in an apparent reference to the Mossad spy agency. Abbasalilo had apparently 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.

Probes into Abbasalilo’s activities indicated that there was at least one person on a hit list in the foiled plot.

Iran denied involvement in the alleged plot.

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

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.

Israel’s National Security Council had warned earlier in 2023 that Iran was likely to target Jews and Israelis in Cyprus and Greece, two countries popular with Israeli tourists, in addition to having relatively sizable expat communities.

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.

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