By Elias Hazou
THE three Norwegian nationals suspected of the planned kidnapping of a four-year-old girl were on Thursday remanded in custody for six days, while police secured an arrest warrant for a fourth suspect.
The three men, aged 29, 40 and 60, were detained on Sunday while crossing Ayios Dhometios checkpoint in Nicosia from northern Cyprus to the republic, after police received a tip of their plan.
Police were also seeking a fourth suspect, a woman who until recently worked as a housemaid for the Cypriot mother of the girl, the target of the foiled abduction.
It is believed the three men planned to take the child back to Norway where her father lives.
The four-year-old lives with her mother, who separated from her ex-husband a few years ago.
The couple had married in Norway in 2012 but after they separated, the mother returned to the island with her daughter.
Last year, she had taken the child to Norway to visit her father but after he kept the child, the mother returned to the island and initiated proceedings to have the child sent back to her.
Police confirmed that later in the year, the child was legally returned to Cyprus.
In court on Thursday, police investigators said evidence found in the men’s possession strongly indicated they intended to abduct the child.
Police found 11 maps of Nicosia, which were marked with the locations of the kindergarten the girl attended, as well as her mother’s house and workplace. According to reports, the maps also traced out, in colour, the fastest routes from Nicosia to the occupied part of the city.
The suspects deny the accusation, claiming they were here to pick up a car belonging to the girl’s Norwegian father and take it back to him, via the occupied areas and then through Turkey.
Police however consider this not to be credible, as the suspects were unable to produce any documents supporting their claims.
Two of the suspects met with the housemaid back in January. One of them told police the housemaid was going to assist with locating the car.
According to state broadcaster CyBC, the Norwegian father of the girl was acquainted with the housemaid, as he had visited Cyprus on a number of occasions to see his daughter.
The housemaid stopped working for the mother some three months ago.
In a further twist, CyBC reported that one of the suspects, 60-year-old Norwegian Espen Lee, had been a mercenary operating in the Middle East and on the African continent.
In a 2009 interview with Norway’s TV2 station, Lee admitted to killing 130 people.
He has had several run-ins with authorities after being accused of various offences, including acts of violence and fraud, and has served jail time.
The other two Norwegian men were also previously known to their country’s authorities, CyBC said.
Meanwhile, Cypriot authorities have filed a request for mutual judicial assistance to Norway, asking that the father of the girl be questioned by Norwegian police over his suspected involvement in the case, which has received a great deal of press coverage in the Scandivanian country.
There are currently 37 cases of child abductions in Cyprus, where one parent has abducted the child from the other parent and taken them abroad. Countries which have signed the Hague convention – including all EU member states – are easier to process and for the children to be returned.