Cyprus may have foiled major attack after ammonia find


Cyprus believes it may have foiled a major explosives attack, a security source said, in seizing nearly five tons of chemical fertilizer for a planned action Israel says bears the hallmarks of the Hezbollah guerrilla group.

Authorities detained a Lebanese-Canadian in late May after finding ammonium nitrate, a potential explosive, in his basement. Initially cited as two tons, security sources told Reuters on Tuesday the amount was in fact closer to five tons.

“With those kind of quantities something bad could have happened, and it was foiled,” a security source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The suspect, a 26-year-old who arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May, was arrested in the coastal town of Larnaca on May 27 after a police raid on premises where he was staying.

Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer but if mixed with other substances can become a very powerful explosive.

Fertilizer-based bombs remain the explosive of choice for many militant groups across the world and have been used in some of the most destructive attacks in recent years.

They were used in the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 and a year later in attacks on the HSBC bank headquarters and the British Consulate in Istanbul in which 32 people died.

JEANS AND T-SHIRT

A Reuters witness in court at an initial hearing before journalists were asked to leave saw a young man of medium build with short dark cropped hair wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans.

“He…is denying everything,” the security source said.

Authorities found the ammonium nitrate in the basement of a two-story house in a quiet suburb of the coastal town of Larnaca. The house's owner, a non-Cypriot, was being sought for questioning but not believed to be in Cyprus.

Sources say they are investigating a possible link with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and remains one of Israel's most active adversaries.

Cypriot authorities have said little about the case, but citing information he said he had received from Nicosia, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the fertilizer was destined for bombs.

“These were apparently meant to be ready for attacks on us,” he told reporters on Monday, referring to Israelis or Jews in Cyprus or elsewhere in Europe. He added that the explosives might also been intended for attacks against Western targets.

Cyprus is a popular holiday destination for Israelis. The island is in the EU and hosts two British military bases.

The island has little militant-related activity despite its proximity to the Middle East. Its last major security incident was a botched attack on the Israeli embassy in 1988, which killed three people.

Hezbollah operative tracked Israeli plane landings in Cyprus


The Hezbollah operative on trial for plotting against Israeli tourists in Cyprus acknowledged passing on Israeli aircraft landing times to his terrorist handlers.

Hosem Taleb Yaacoub on Thursday said in court that he recorded landing times for Arkia flights between Tel Aviv and Larnaca, the New York Times reported.

Yaacoub, who has a Lebanese and a Swedish passport, had earlier in the week acknowledged membership in Hezbollah and staking out areas frequented by Israeli tourists.

On Thursday, he said he relayed the landing times to his Hezbollah handler.

Yaacoub continued to deny witting involvement in any plot to kill Israelis, saying he did not know how the information he gathered would be used.

Two weeks after Yaacoub's arrest early last July, a suicide bomber killed five Israelis and a bus driver in Bulgaria, and earlier this month, Bulgaria implicated Hezbollah in the attack.

Yaacoub acknowledged receiving military training from Hezbollah. The trial comes as the United States and Israel are increasing pressure on the European Union to ban Hezbollah as a a terrorist organization.

“The United States of America and other countries have already included Hezbollah in its list of terrorist organizations,” Peres said Feb. 21 at a memorial service for Joseph Trumpeldor, a pre-state fighter who fell in battle 93 years ago. “Now, after it has been proved that Hezbollah was behind the terror attack in Bulgaria, on European soil, and murdered innocent civilians, and as reports increase of its involvement, along with Iran, in attacks in Cyprus and Nigeria, the time has come for every country in the world, and especially the European Union, to add Hezbollah to its list of terror organizations.”

Earlier this week, Nigerian authorities arrested three men suspected of staking out U.S and Israeli targets on behalf of Iran. Hezbollah often acts as Iran's surrogate.