Cyprus to deport six ‘extremists’ to France

Cyprus was expected to deport six French citizens to Switzerland after they were detained at the island's main airport and suspected of links to extremist groups. They will then be handed over to French police.

Cyprus to deport six 'extremists' to France
Photo: AFP

The six French passport holders, five men of Turkish descent and one of Algerian origin, were detained on Saturday evening after arriving at Larnaca airport on a flight from Basel, Switzerland, police said.

They will then be handed back to French authorities.

Police said the suspects were aged between 25 and 33.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told state radio that at least three of the six appeared to have “strong links to terrorist groups”.

“There were suspicions against these specific individuals upon their arrival at the island,” Nicolaou said.

“We have information suggesting that they have strong links to terrorist groups, while Interpol has already informed us that three of those suspects have been identified as having links to a terrorist organisation,” he said.

“The other three also appear to have some sort of link,” he said.

Nicolaou later told reporters that “these people… will be sent back for reasons of security”.

There was no indication they had planned to stay in Cyprus but were more likely in transit, he said, without specifying if they were headed for Syria.

Once they return to Switzerland — Larnaca has a scheduled flight to Basel on Tuesdays — the suspects will be handed over to French authorities, Swiss federal police told AFP.

“This has been discussed with French authorities, they are the ones in charge of the case and they will take care of the suspects once they arrive,” a spokesman said.

A French source close to the case said there was “no suggestion at this stage of any suspicions of terrorism against them”.

The six travellers were known to the French authorities as part of a Muslim association, the source said.

“This is a group of bearded men who openly have an Islamic appearance,” the source said, adding that like all other passengers on the flight to Larnaca, they had been checked by the French authorities.

Cyprus has stepped up security at its airports, ports and other public places following the jihadist attacks in Paris earlier this month that left 130 people dead.


Bomb parts found in French terror probe

French police said Wednesday they had seized bomb-making equipment from the homes of a group of Islamic extremists they now believe constituted an "extremely dangerous terrorist cell."

Francois Molins, the Paris prosecutor heading an investigation triggered by a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store, invoked rarely-used anti-terrorist legislation to extend the detention of 12 suspects into a fifth day.

The French criminal code allows for suspects to be held without charge for up to six days in cases of a "serious risk of an imminent terrorist attack" in France or abroad.

"We are clearly and objectively facing an extremely dangerous terrorist cell," Molins said, defending the extraordinary detentions as necessary to "avoid the risk of a terrorist attack in France".

He said "components useful for bomb-making", a shotgun and a handgun had been found in searches in the eastern Paris suburb of Torcy, where two of the suspects were detained on Saturday.

Among the components found were bags of potassium nitrate, sulphur, saltpetre, pressure cookers and headlight bulbs, "all products or instruments useful in the making of what we call improvised explosives," Molins said.

Police spent most of Wednesday removing sacks of unidentified material from an underground garage at an apartment block in Torcy.

The 12 alleged members of the cell are all under 30 and thought to have been either born or brought up in France.

They are being held held on suspicion of involvement in a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles last month and of planning other anti-Semitic attacks.

A list of Jewish organisations in the Paris area was found at one of the addresses where the bomb-making components were discovered.

The suspected leader of those detained, 33-year-old Jeremie Louis-Sidney, was shot dead Saturday after he opened fire on officers seeking to arrest him in a dawn raid at his home in Strasbourg.

Police were led to Louis-Sidney, a convert to Islam who was radicalised during a spell in prison for drug dealing, following forensic examination of the pin of a grenade thrown into the kosher grocery on September 19th.

Traces found on the pin suggested he had handled the grenade but Molins said it was not clear if he had thrown it and said two men believed to have been directly involved in the attack may still be at large.

"It has not yet been established that the two individuals who carried out the attack by throwing the grenade into the grocery have been apprehended," he said.

Wednesday's decision to continue to hold the suspects without charge beyond four days marks only the second time such an extension has been granted since France's current pre-charge detention system was adopted in 2006.

Sources told AFP the suspects were all refusing to cooperate during interrogation by anti-terrorism officers.

"In the three weeks leading up to the arrests, physical and telephone surveillance of the members of the group showed that they were all very active, mobile and extremely prudent about their movements," the source added.