Immigrants who maintain close links with Turkey are reportedly on a list of monitored foreign nationals confirmed by police, it emerged on Monday.
Police confirmed reports on Sunday that security authorities maintain a list of foreign nationals suspected of possible links to terrorist groups abroad.
It is estimated that 95 per cent of irregular migrants travel to the Republic through the north and concerns abound over public polarisation and racism against Muslims, weaponised migration flows from Turkey, as well as fear of Islamic fundamentalists arriving from Syria.
A network to share information has been set up which includes the intelligence services KYP, the asylum service, the aliens and immigration service, the intelligence management and analysis service, and the counter-terrorism office.
Following the report that the list consists of 450 people, police spokesman Christos Andreou declined to give the number involved but confirmed that such persons are monitored and sometimes questioned to clear them of any such links while residing in the Republic.
According to Philenews, in one case, security authorities screened a migrant, allegedly associated with the Turkish national intelligence organisation (MIT). Another person was reported to have direct contacts with Turkish military personnel.
According to the information published, police were monitoring the case of a third country national who allegedly travelled to Syria while residing in Cyprus to fight with the Free Syrian Army and/or the al-Nusra Front.
The man reportedly appears in a photo posted on social media holding the flag of a military organisation in a busy part of a city in Cyprus. Other photos show rebels in military gear.
The flagged man was investigated for allegations of running a front company, which actually operates to help ex-combatants move to Europe, with the cooperation of MIT.
He was placed under close watch following assessment by the competent team.
Cypriot intelligence services had put another foreigner under observation who allegedly had contacts in Turkey with Turkish military personnel. Evidence brought under investigation included visual material on his mobile phone, showing him killing a Syrian soldier, Philenews said.
The case was investigated and police interrogated the man, who was determined to not be a radical. However, he remains on the watch list.
Another man on the authorities’ list was an asylum seeker who posted the photo of the murderer of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on social media.
Another case concerns a man with a Syrian passport issued by ISIS who had a Turkish residence permit. Holding subsidiary protection status, he travelled illegally to Turkey through the north and on his subsequent return to Larnaca airport via Athens, he presented a fake passport.
Checks through Europol revealed he had received a phone call from a number in Turkey which was is in the international database marked as connected with matters of terrorism.
The person in question was imprisoned for a few months in the Republic during which time he was found to have calls listed from a suspected terrorist number which he claimed was a relative from Turkey.
One other holder of subsidiary protection status was reported to have been investigated after arriving in Larnaca airport from Belgrade, claiming to have travelled to Turkey through the north to visit relatives. The man had previously been flagged for possible connection with ISIS.
Speaking on CyBC radio on Monday, Andreou declined to comment on details on issues of national security. He did offer that it was important for the public to understand that the list of monitored cases does not imply automatic confirmation of terrorist activity.
The police anti-terrorism office has submitted recommendations for amending existing legislation so that the security authorities can be given wider rein to tackle cases of foreigners suspected of terrorism.
“Based on the current legislation, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove crimes of terrorism simply through circumstantial evidence without stronger evidence or testimony,” Andreou told Philenews.
“Where illegal or criminal activities of suspected persons took place in a third country, testimony must be secured for the person to be convicted before a court, a fact which creates several difficulties.”
Specific provisions exist for deportation of suspected persons whereby the director of the immigration department can deport people considered a threat to public order, after taking into account the views of the attorney general.
Andreou clarified that the list may also include people who have been questioned and are no longer suspects.
“They may have been interrogated and nothing was found against them,” he said.
The Cyprus Mail contacted the police spokesman, but he declined to give any details beyond what he told the CyBC earlier in the day.
We also reached out to the Special Counter-Terrorism Squad, which comes under the police’s Emergency Response Unit (or Mmad).
An operator there said as a matter of policy they never comment to the media on matters of national security. The squad needs permission from the chief of police directly to speak with journalists.
Phileleftheros also revealed the issue with the so-called ‘Q passports’. These are travel documents that appear to be genuine, however they were issued by an unauthorised entity in Syria. They were printed at Syrian state printing offices during a time when they were occupied by Isis.
The newspaper claimed to have gotten hold of an internal police memo dating to 2019 and referring to the Q passports. It read: “During the course of 2018, during passport control of persons entering the Republic [of Cyprus], Syrian passports were presented which comprise part of a batch of passports with serial numbers….printed by Syria state printing houses taken over by the terrorist organisation Isis and issued to members of the organisation as legitimate.
“The passports in question are authentic, as far as them being documents, and according to German authorities they are called Q Passports. Part of this batch were found in the possession of Syrian migrants who applied for asylum at the German embassy in Turkey and Germany. Following instructions from the Law Office of the Republic [attorney-general’s office], we asked for and received information from other European countries as to their handling of these Q Passports. Fifteen of the 22 countries which did respond, said they did not accept these passports, while the remaining seven – United Kingdom, Latvia, Lithuania, Holland, Portugal, Romania and Finland – said they do accept them.”