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Cyprus said to believe terror is likely motive in alleged plot against Israelis

Report says attempted assassination plot, which Israel blames on Iran, was planned for Muslim festival; Bennett said to speak with Cypriot president

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

Cypriot authorities now believe terrorism is the most likely motive in last month’s alleged plot to assassinate one or more Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus, local media reported on Thursday.

According to the Philenews website, the attack was scheduled to take place during a Muslim festival and was “intended to send a message.”

However, the report said Cypriot police wanted to first examine the facts “systematically” before formally declaring its conclusions.

The same news site said Thursday that Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades spoke on the phone with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, although the Cypriot readout of the call didn’t mention the affair. Bennett’s office has not released a statement on the call.

Philenews reported that Anastasiades spoke with Bennett about alleged Turkish maritime violations and illegal actions in northern Cyprus, which is controlled by a Turkey-supported regime not recognized internationally. It added that the leaders agreed to stay in touch and plan to meet soon.

Cypriot authorities are probing an Azeri national on terror suspicions as part of the alleged plot. The suspect was ordered held in custody another six days during a hearing last week, according to Cypriot reports.

On Wednesday, local media reported that a second suspect had been arrested in Cyprus in connection with the case.

According to a local Cypriot website, a 27-year-old food delivery worker originally from Pakistan was arrested on Tuesday evening after a police raid on his home. Authorities reportedly seized a number of items from his residence.

A Greek police officer, foreground, stands guard as UN peacekeepers block the closed crossing point in the divided capital of Nicosia, Cyprus, March 9, 2020. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

The raid on the second man’s home was said to have been as a result of an examination of the Azeri suspect’s phone records.

According to Philenews, the Pakistani suspect has been remanded for eight days. The report said authorities believe several phone calls between both suspects were not “accidental.” It also reported that a food distributor uniform was found in the possession of the Azeri suspect, and authorities believe he received it from the Pakistani man, allegedly to present himself as a deliveryman and go unnoticed.

Police said the arrests were being handled as a possible terrorism case, but lawyers for the first suspect, who has not been named, have denied any terror links.

The Azeri man was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of planning to attack one or more Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus. Israeli authorities have insisted that the man was part of an Iran-backed terror plot aimed against Israelis on the island.

During the hearing in Cyprus last week, officials unsealed documents listing 11 charges linked to the suspect, including terror activity, attempted murder, belonging to a criminal organization, conspiracy to commit a crime, and being in the country illegally, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported.

According to a local Cypriot report, a gun with a silencer was found by police in the Azeri suspect’s vehicle.

The lawyer for the first suspect denied any Iranian connection to the reported assassination attempt, Channel 12 reported, and Cypriot authorities also do not believe Iran is behind the plot, according to local media.

Reports have indicated that the plot was directed at Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi, though Israeli authorities — and Sagi himself — have denied he was specifically targeted.

Teddy Sagi (courtesy)

The Philenews website reported that Cypriot authorities think the alleged would-be hitman’s target in the plot was not Sagi, but other members of his company. Sagi is the founder of the gambling software company Playtech, which has offices in Nicosia.

Sagi told Channel 12 earlier this month that he was never tipped off or warned and decided to leave Cyprus for unrelated reasons. “The headlines sounded very scary, but it had nothing to do with me,” he said. “I didn’t receive any notification to leave.” Some sources previously claimed that the foiled attack was an assassination attempt against Sagi linked to his business dealings.

But the Israeli government blamed “Iranian terror” for the planned attack, and said Sagi was targeted only because he was an Israeli businessman.

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