ATHENS, Greece — Two men accused of planning a Passover attack on a Jewish center in central Athens appeared in court Friday to answer to terrorism charges and were ordered to remain in pre-trial detention, authorities said.
Greek officials announced the suspects’ arrests earlier this week and described the Iran-born men, aged 29 and 27, as being of Pakistani origin.
They are charged with participation in a terrorist organization, a crime that carries a possible life sentence.
Police alleged they were planning to attack the Chabad of Athens center, which is part of Judaism’s international Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The center hosts religious services, as well as a kosher restaurant and grocery.
Passover, one of the most important Jewish holidays, starts next Wednesday at sundown.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the suspects were planning attacks at other locations. Police have searched multiple sites in Athens as well as in southern Greece and on the western island of Zakynthos.
ביוון מפרסמים: חוסיין (29) וחיידר (27) הם המחבלים הפקיסטינים ילידי איראן שתכננו לרצוח ישראלים באתונה בשליחות כוח קודס האירני pic.twitter.com/5aKV0DzL3n
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) March 29, 2023
The two men appeared before a public prosecutor, who ordered their detention in prison pending trial.
A third man, who is not in Greece, is wanted for questioning and has been charged with terrorism-related offenses in absentia.
Israel has thanked the Greek government for its response and said that its national intelligence agency, Mossad, had provided information about the suspects, including that they were part of an Iranian terror network.
Iran’s embassy in Greece has denied any connection to the alleged plot.
A Greek lawyer representing the two suspects told reporters after Friday’s hearing that one of the men had agreed to take videos of the Jewish center using his cell phone but had decided not to go through with the attack.
“My client believed that the third man, who has not been arrested, was in a position to threaten him and carry out criminal acts against him and members of his family,” lawyer Iraklis Stavaris said.
“He acknowledges the part that was an attempt: meaning that he went and checked out the location, the scene where the crime would be committed, and he withdrew. He saw that the operation would not be easy and would have consequences.”