Cyprus to try Azeri ‘hitman’ allegedly targeting Israelis
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cypriot police have formally charged an Azeri man on suspicion that he planned to carry out the contract killings of Israelis living in Cyprus, a law enforcement official said on Tuesday.
The official said that the 38-year-old suspect will go on trial next month on eight charges including conspiracy to commit murder, belonging to a criminal enterprise and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. The suspect also faces a terrorism-related charge.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details about the case, said the Azeri’s arrest last month during which a pistol was found in his possession came in the ‘nick of time’ as police believe he was about to carry out the killings.
Police had acted on a tip-off about the suspect’s activities from a “foreign agency,” the official said.
The alleged targets were said to be businessmen working in Cyprus. According to the official, the suspect had five other alleged cohorts he recruited on the island nation — four Pakistani fast food delivery drivers and one Lebanese man — who will also stand trial on the same charges.
At least two pistols seized by police have been linked to the Azeri man. One of the weapons was handed over to police by the Lebanese suspect.
The Azeri man had been living on both sides of Cyprus’ ethnic divide and would often shuttle between the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south, the official said.
The official said the suspect has denied any involvement in the case. Authorities have kept court proceedings under wraps, barring journalists from attending and releasing no information about the case. The trials of all six suspects will be held behind closed doors.
Last month, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the Azeri’s alleged actions “an act of terror that was orchestrated by Iran against Israeli businesspeople living in Cyprus.”