NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus believes it may have foiled a major explosives attack, a security source said, in seizing nearly five tonnes 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 tonnes, security sources told Reuters on Tuesday the amount was in fact closer to five tonnes.
“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.
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.
Reporting By Michele Kambas