Cypriot police are continuing to question a 24-year-old foreigner arrested last week for allegedly plotting an attack on Israeli tourists visiting the Mediterranean island, Cypriot media reported on Saturday.
The man, said to be a Swedish passport holder of Lebanese extraction, was arrested on July 7 and was detained following remand hearings held in camera, Sigma TV reported. He has not yet been charged with any offence.
Sigma TV's website reported the man had been tracking the movement of Israeli tourists on the island, while Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros said he was attempting to pinpoint areas frequented by Israeli tourists and the buses they used.
A Cypriot government spokesperson confirmed the arrest of the Lebanese man, and according to media reports, the arrest took place after a "foreign intelligence agency" submitted information on the suspect to the authorities.
The island's public television reported that Israeli intelligence agents had provided the information on the suspect and his intentions, while Sigma TV claimed that Mossad agents were in Cyprus to help question the suspect.
The suspect's remand was reportedly extended by seven days following a court hearing on Friday. A Cypriot Police spokesman, Andreas Angelides, said, "We can confirm the arrest of a 24-year-old foreign national for specific, serious offences, and who is in custody by order of the court." However, the spokesman refused to give details of the suspect's identity and whether he had any accomplices.
Police reportedly arrested the Lebanese man in his hotel room, where they also found photos and documents containing information on Israeli targets, including flight departure and arrival times for Israeli airlines. Sigma TV said the suspect arrived in Cyprus with the intention of carrying out a terror attack against an Israeli plane or tourist bus, and according to other reports, he spent time in the southern coastal city of Limassol where he photographed "Israeli targets."
Based on the suspect's Lebanese origin, it is increasingly believed that the man is a Hezbollah operative who was collecting information for a terror attack that was being planned by the Shiite group, seeking retaliation for the 2008 assassination of one of its senior leaders, Imad Mughniyeh, which they blame on Israel.
It is also possible that the planned terror attack was part of an Iranian initiative to strike Israeli targets following a recent series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Tehran holds Israel responsible.
The Jewish state's diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers Israel said were acting on behalf of Iran and Hezbollah.
In response to the reports from Cyprus, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying, "There are no borders to Iranian terrorism. After Iran sent its people to assassinate — on U.S. soil — the Saudi Arabian ambassador and to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Azerbaijan, Bangkok, Tbilisi, New Delhi and Africa, its intention to perpetrate attacks in Cyprus has now been exposed.
"The international community needs to fight the greatest exporter of terrorism in the world," the statement added.
Two Iranian citizens were recently arrested in Kenya for reportedly attempting to launch a terror attack on Israeli and Western targets in the coastal city of Mombasa. The suspects were allegedly in possession of 15 kilograms of explosive material.
Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean, is a favorite vacation destination for Israelis, and some 15-20,000 Israelis visit the island every month.
The island, which sees overall about 2.4 million tourists a year, is considered a safe destination for Israelis, and between two to three flights a day depart from Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to Nicosia. In the summer, there are additional charter flights between the two countries.
Larnaca airport, on the Greek part of the island, is located some 250 kilometers from Israel and can be reached in under an hour by plane. Most Israeli tourists stay in Nicosia or head east to Ayia Napa. The main attractions are Cyprus's clean beaches and clear blue waters.
The Lebanese suspect's reported July 5 arrival on the island coincided with Cyprus assuming the presidency of the European Union, an event marked by the gathering of a host of EU officials and commissioners on the island.
Cyprus lies just west of Syria and Lebanon but has been largely unscathed by the violence and upheaval rattling the Middle East. Its last major security incident was a botched car bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in the capital Nicosia in May 1988, killing three people.