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Cyprus

Ammonium nitrate suspect remanded in custody (updated)

By Angelos Anastasiou

A 26-year-old Lebanese man arrested after a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, a potential explosive, was found at his Larnaca house, was remanded for eight days on Thursday, but authorities could not say whether the case was linked to terrorism.

The hearing was conducted behind closed doors for national security reasons.

Almost two tonnes of the substance was found at the suspect’s house in Larnaca on Wednesday, packaged in 67,000 containers.

Also found in his possession were €10,000 in cash.  The individual, a Canadian passport holder, arrived on the island a week ago and had been under police surveillance since.

His remand hearing at the Larnaca district court was conducted behind closed doors at the request of the prosecution.

According to state prosecutor Thanasis Papanicolaou, sensitive issues relating to national interests would be aired in court, the publication of which could affect national security.

Presiding judge Michalis Loizou accepted the request and, following the hearing, ordered his remand for eight days.

The suspect, who opted to appear before court without a lawyer did not object to his remand. He was escorted to court by a large police force.

A young man of medium build with short cropped hair, he was led handcuffed by police into a courtroom. He sat emotionless in a grey t-shirt and jeans.

Police spokesman Andreas Angelides said the case is “very serious and is being handled extremely carefully by the police”.

On Wednesday, he added, police searched the suspect’s residence and found 420 boxes containing roughly 67,000 packages of ammonium nitrate.

The Lebanese man was immediately arrested.

The man denied any involvement in the case.

According to unnamed sources cited by state radio, the suspect said he was aware that the substance had been stored in the house, but it did not belong to him.

Angelides said more individuals will be questioned in connection with the case, but declined to comment on whether the police might have averted a planned terrorist attack.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou addressed the issue by saying that “when national security is at stake, all necessary measures must be taken”.

Asked to comment on the operation that resulted in the arrest of the suspect, Nicolaou said ammonium nitrate can be used for therapeutic purposes – it is used in instant ice packs – but may also serve other uses when mixed with other materials.

“All possibilities and every connection – if any – are being explored,” the minister said.

“This case drew the attention of the secret service, and led to the Lebanese national’s arrest and the seizing of the ammonium nitrate,” he added.

Commenting on the fact that the remand hearing took place behind closed doors, he said that “when national security is at stake, all necessary measures must be taken, and because every possibility is being explored, no one can yet say whether this case is connected with a possible planned terrorist act or not”.

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