NICOSIA, Cyprus – A man suspected of planning a foiled terrorist attack against Israeli tourists on Cyprus is a Lebanese-Palestinian with a Swedish passport and has been ordered to stand trial in September, officials said Friday.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the suspect is a Hezbollah operative who used the same "modus operandi" as a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver in an attack last week in Burgas, Bulgaria. Netanyahu did not offer evidence for those allegations.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides told The Associated Press that the 24-year-old suspect faces a total of 17 "terrorism and terrorism-related charges," the most serious of which carries a sentence of life in prison. The trial has been scheduled to start Sept. 12.
An official with knowledge of the charges who spoke on condition of anonymity because court proceedings are not open to the public, said the charges include espionage and conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack.
The suspect's lawyer, Antonis Georgiades, told the AP that he is a Lebanese Palestinian who holds a Swedish passport. He said he agreed that his client remain in custody until his trial "for his own safety in light of the publicity."
But Georgiades said "he poses no risk to national security."
Cyprus' Justice Minister Loucas Louca has said that the suspect displayed similar behavioral patterns to the attacker in Bulgaria but stopped short of directly linking him to that plot.
Police have said that they believe the man — who was arrested July 3 following a tip from a foreign intelligence agency — was acting alone.
Authorities in Cyprus have otherwise remained tight-lipped about the man's identity or his intended target. Louca said that the suspect belongs to an organization which he refused to name, but which is not on a European Union list of known terrorist groups.
State media have reported that the suspect is affiliated with Hezbollah who was monitoring and recording the movements of Israeli tourists — including bus routes — and other Israeli interests on the island. The reports cite unnamed police sources.