Israel’s Mossad spy agency announced Thursday that in a special operation in Iranian territory, it had caught the Iranian terrorist sent to lead a planned terror attack against Israeli targets in Cyprus.
The Mossad named the man as Yousef Shahbazi Abbasalilo and published a video of his interrogation by its agents, in which he confessed to the plot and gave details on it. It said Abbasalilo was given weapons for the attack from senior officials in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and instructions on its implementation. The spy agency said the plan was to target Israeli businessmen in the small island nation.
In his interrogation, Abbasalilo recounted following a target for assassination and waiting for an opportunity to kill him, but said police eventually caught wind of the plot and he was forced to flee back to Iran as he was being searched for.
The information obtained from Abbasalilo led to the dismantling of the rest of the terror cell by Cypriot security forces, Mossad said. The plotters included Iranians, Pakistanis and locals.
Abbasalilo named his handler as Hassan Shoushtari Zadeh, a known and senior figure in the Guard’s Foreign Intelligence Branch.
In the video, Abbasalilo said Shoushtari Zadeh “discussed with me what he was planning to do in Cyprus. He told me, you need to enter northern Cyprus, where we have certain people who can send you from there to southern Cyprus.”
“He told me himself: ‘I trust [The Pakistanis] and their group, they have carried out very important activity for me.'”
“I replied: ‘If it is possible, I will carry out this mission immediately.’ He replied: ‘Wait, it is not possible yet, as there are policemen searching for you.'”
Abbasalilo said he buried the weapon he had received under a bush, and eventually “I received my target via a WhatsApp interface that I received from the IRGC Intelligence Organization.”
“I received a photo from Mr. Shoushtari and the GPS route to the house where he lives.”
Abbasalilo then began following his target from afar, taking photographs and otherwise preparing for the assassination.
“My plan was that if the man was there — I mean after I found out that he was there and where he was going — if it was a quiet and empty road, I would kill him with the weapon.”
But his handlers “found out that the police were after me and ordered me to hide the weapon, get rid of all the equipment, and return [to Iran].”
It was not immediately clear what became of Abbasalilo after his interrogation.
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.
Mossad in its statement said it would “continue to act decisively to prevent harm to Jews and Israelis around the world.”
On Monday, Channel 12 reported that 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. This information was not confirmed by Mossad.
The network also said that in recent days, Greek intelligence services arrested seven Pakistani nationals who were recruited by Iran to carry out attacks in the country. It was not clarified if they were also linked to the Cyprus plot.
The report noted the close cooperation between Mossad and intelligence services in Greece, Cyprus and the United States.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a branch of the Iranian army that is considered a terror organization by several countries, including the United States.
Cypriot media said the suspected attackers in the foiled plot were using the northern part of the divided island, whose leader is recognized only by Turkey, as a staging post for the potential attack and that Cypriot intelligence services had closely followed the cell for a number of months.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office issued a press statement Sunday that said: “The State of Israel operates using a wide variety of methods in every place to protect Jews and Israelis, and will continue to act to destroy Iranian terrorism wherever it raises its head, including on Iranian soil.”
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.
In March, Greek police arrested two Pakistani nationals who were allegedly planning mass-casualty terrorist attacks on behalf of Iran against Israeli and Jewish targets in Greece. Mossad, which aided the Greek investigation, said in a statement that the two were part of an Iranian terror network.
A Greek government official told The Associated Press at the time that one of the targets was a kosher restaurant in central Athens, which is part of a Chabad House in the capital. Other reports indicated the target was the Chabad House itself.
In October 2021, Israel said that an Iranian plot against Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus had been foiled. According to reports, the hired killer was of Azeri origin and had arrived in Cyprus on a flight from Russia, using a Russian passport. Cyprus charged six people in the plot, including the main suspect and three Pakistani nationals.
In November, Georgian security officials foiled an attempt by a Pakistani citizen to murder an Israeli in Georgia on orders from an Iranian operative.
Last summer, Turkish forces stymied an attempt by Iranian agents to kill Israelis in Istanbul, arresting three men. A month before that, the Mossad and its local counterparts thwarted three Iranian attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Istanbul. Iran denied the allegations.
Iran and Israel have been engaged in a decades-long shadow war across the Middle East and beyond.
Agencies contributed to this report.