Some 30 individuals suspected of having links to the Islamic State were identified at Larnaca airport over the last few months and sent back to their countries of origin, sources told the Cyprus Mail on Thursday.
A report in daily Phileleftheros said that 30 “jihadists” tried to travel to Europe from Larnaca airport, but were identified as being linked to the Islamic State and turned away by local law enforcement.
According to the report, Cypriot authorities believe that Cyprus is targeted as a convenient crossing point into European territory by IS-affiliated individuals in transit.
Thus, over the last six months, the paper said, citing “Central Intelligence Service data”, individuals whose names appear on the list of suspected terrorists, or are otherwise believed to be linked to the IS, arrived in Cyprus and tried to fly to Europe.
They were thought to have entered Cyprus’ government-controlled areas from the Turkish-occupied areas in the north, but were forced to return to the country they arrived from.
But security sources told the Cyprus Mail that the reported number relates to individuals arriving to Cyprus from other European countries on their way to Syria, purportedly in order to join the IS, not the other way around.
“It would make no sense to do that – until now, by far the easiest way of getting into Europe has been to go through Turkey,” the source said.
“Why would they try to go through Cyprus?”
In any case, most – to the tune of as much as 99 per cent – of the European citizens that travelled to Syria to join the IS went through Turkey, and 1 per cent “might have come through Cyprus and travelled to Syria via the occupied areas”.
But this, the sources added, ended two years ago, when European countries started informing Cypriot authorities of persons of interest, which were then stopped at the airport and sent back.
According to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Cypriot authorities, in close cooperation with foreign intelligence services on such matters, have duly informed them after each incident.
Meanwhile, increased security measures at Larnaca airport were inspected by police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou on Wednesday, and weak spots were identified.
The chief was accompanied by deputy Support chief Kypros Michaelides, riot-squad MMAD chief Savvas Christou, and various police officials.
After inspecting the airport’s premises, the team instructed airport security to cover weak spots, focusing on public entry to the departure lounge.
Following the Paris terrorist attacks in November last year, 120 National Guard members have been seconded to Cyprus’ two airports – Larnaca and Paphos – in order to support the heightened alert level.
And in light of the Brussels attacks, Cyprus police are in close contact with Interpol and Europol, in order to exchange information in connection with individuals identified as terrorists, so they can be captured in case they try to pass through one of the island’s airports.