Azeri ‘hitman’ detained amid Israel-Iran row

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The arrest of a ‘would-be’ Azeri hitman, who allegedly arrived in Cyprus to assassinate an Israeli businessman, is turning into a diplomatic incident between Israel and its arch-foe Iran, as a Nicosia court renews his detention.

Originally thought to had been a hitman sent to assassinate a prominent Israeli businessman, Israel now accuses the Azeri of being part of a wider Iranian plot to carry out a terrorist attack on several Israeli businesspeople on the island.

The office of Naftali Bennet, the Israeli prime minister, said in an announcement that it perceived the issue to be “an act of terror… orchestrated by Iran against Israeli businesspeople living on the island”.

His office denied media reports that the target was Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi living on the island.

However, Iran has refuted any involvement in the case.

“This regime is always making such a baseless allegation against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the Iranian embassy in Nicosia said in a statement to Reuters news agency.

A Nicosia court extended the police remand until Monday of the Azeri suspect that Israel claims is an assassin recruited by Iran.

The man was arrested in the Cypriot capital on 27 September after, as Cyprus Police said, he had been intercepted while crossing a checkpoint from the Turkish occupied north.

Police said a pistol with a silencer and a number of bullets were found in his rental vehicle.

Sources told Philelefteros daily the police are concerned over the suspect’s frequent requests to visit a doctor out of hours, claiming he is sick.

Stalling for time

The Azeri also appears to be stalling for time, as he challenges the official translation of documents from Greek to Russian, claiming that they are a bad transcript.

The suspect has not been charged, and officials have not identified him beyond describing him as an ethnic Azeri with a Russian passport.

Phileleftheros said that Cypriot authorities do not believe Iran is behind the plot.

Authorities are also convinced the would-be hitman’s target in the plot was not Sagi but other members of his company.

During his transport from the central prisons to the courts, police are taking draconian measures, using a convoy of vehicles, including unmarked SUVs accompanied by police on motorcycles, while everything is recorded on camera.

Israel has warned its missions around the world of a possible Iranian terror threat, a television report claimed on Wednesday, following the arrest of an Azeri national over an alleged plot to assassinate one or more Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus.

According to Channel 12 news, Israeli diplomats across the globe have been told to remain on high alert.

The network also said three suspects in the foiled attack attempt in Cyprus, revealed earlier this week, are suspected of fleeing the island nation. However, the channel did not cite a source for the information.