Saturday, July 14, 2012

14-Jul-12: Terror attack in Cyprus foiled; the targets seem to have been Israelis

Cyprus: Police in action [Image Source]

In January 2012, a Lebanese man called Hussein Idris, holding a Swedish passport, was arrested together with a second Lebanese in Bangkok. Thai police charged them with plotting to explode several bombs in the Thai capital. The target (surprise, surprise): Israelis. Associated Press quoted the head of the Thai police saying the terrorists were "pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants". 

Today (Saturday) in Cyprus, the local police revealed that they arrested a Lebanese holding a Swedish passport some days ago. [But let's note that in Lebanon, they are saying tonight that the suspect's second passport was Saudi, not Swedish.]

This Swedish/Saudi Lebanese is a 24 year old man. The police in Cyprus say he had been tracking Israeli tourists on the island, and was evidently planning attack on buses according to a local news source quoted by the Jerusalem Post. No charges have been formally laid yet in this unfolding story, but in the words of the Cypriot police: "We can confirm the arrest of a 24-year-old foreign national for specific, serious offenses, and who is in custody by order of the court." On the other hand, "It is not clear what, or whether there was a target in Cyprus. That is under investigation," a senior government official told Reuters. AFP is more forthright, quoting a police source who said he could not deny or confirm the reports because it was a "sensitive political issue"... It did however say, basing itself on a Cypriot newspaper, Phileleftheros, that the terrorists were aiming at either buses or aircraft and that "notes with details of Israeli aircraft were found" in the possession of the arrested man.

The SigmaLive news site from Cyprus is connecting the suspect with Hizbollah. But there are few details. So we'll keep watching.

Is there a connection with Iran in this sordid story? Maybe. Associated Press is quoting Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu tonight saying that Iran's hand is behind the affair. AP's report says "Netanyahu provided no proof to support his allegations..."

Let's recall the last major terror incident on the island of Cyprus. That was when a car bomb attack was mounted against the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nicosia, in May 1988 [report here]. The driver of a Mitsubishi sedan, loaded with 300 pounds of dynamite, tried to park outside the four-story Israeli embassy building but was told by guards he had to move on. Asked to identify himself, he instead drove off rapidly and crashed into another car some 200 meters away,  and the car exploded seconds later, killing the driver (named as Kaddour Gaonajan, 24) and two innocent Cypriots; seventeen others were injured. The vehicle's owner was Omar Ahmad Hawillo, also described then as a Lebanese. He escaped from the vehicle just before it exploded and was soon arrested. Convicted later that year, he confessed to being a member of the Palestinian Arab Abu Nidal terrorist group [source] that had carried out the September 1986 terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed twenty-two. He was sentenced by a Cypriot court to fifteen years in prison, but served only eight years after a series of presidential pardons [see this 1996 Cypriot news report].

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