Hitman hired by Iran to assassinate Israelis arrested in Cyprus

Cypriot authorities have arrested a 38-year-old Azeri national carrying a Russian passport, who was planning on attacking Israeli businessmen living in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia.

By Tobias Siegal, World Israel News

The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to carry out a coordinated attack against Israeli businessmen in Cyprus, the Prime Minster’s Office confirmed Monday.

Last week, Cypriot authorities arrested an Azeri national carrying a Russian passport. Following an investigation that was put under a gag order, authorities said the suspect is believed to be a hitman hired by Tehran to attack Israeli citizens currently in the country, Cypriot media reported.

The 38-year-old suspect was reportedly arrested while waiting in a rented vehicle near a building where several Israeli businessmen were staying. He was carrying a handgun and a silencer upon his arrest.

“I can clarify on behalf of the security establishment, that this was an act of terror that was orchestrated by Iran against Israeli businesspeople living in Cyprus,” a media spokesperson speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed Monday.

The Iranian embassy in Cyprus rejected claims of Iran’s involvement in a terrorist attack against Israelis in the country, calling the allegations of a plot against Israelis “baseless,” Reuters reported.

Assessing the incident later on Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “Iran continues to pose both a global and a regional threat, as well as a challenge for Israel,” adding that “we will continue to protect our citizens and the security of the State of Israel anywhere in the world and against any threat.”

The story first made headlines Sunday, when Israeli media reported that Israeli billionaire Tedi Sagi had fled Cyprus after being notified that he was being targeted by an assassin.

Initial Israeli reports presumed the incident to be financial in nature, arguing that Sagi was targeted due to money he owed his business partners in Russia.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that “As opposed to some of the reports yesterday regarding an incident in Cyprus … This [was] not a criminal act and the Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi was not the target of the attack.”

Instead, Sagi was only one potential target among dozens of Israeli businessmen living in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Israeli intelligence officials believes.

Sagi and a few others were reportedly notified in advance by intelligence officials in Cyprus and  managed to escape the country in the nick of time. Sagi later rejected such claims, telling Israeli Channel 12 that he was not tipped off and chose to leave Cyprus for unrelated reasons.

“The headlines sounded very scary, but it had nothing to do with me,” Sagi said.

“I can say for certain that this was an attempted terrorist attack carried out by Iran,” a spokesperson speaking on behalf of Sagi on Radio 103 FM said. “One of the reasons I came here today was to reject any claim suggesting that the assailant was sent by someone in quarrel with Sagi.”

Sagi is the founder of the gambling software companies Playtech and SafeCharge and the owner of London’s Camden Market. His personal wealth is estimated at $3.6 billion (U.S. dollars.) According to Israeli media, Sagi and several of his business partners have been caught up in an ongoing dispute in recent years that has seen the involvement of criminal individuals.

On Wednesday, Cypriot media reported that the authorities investigating the incident in Cyprus no longer believe Iran is behind the attack, despite Israel’s accusations, and are once again looking into the possibility that Sagi or someone from his team were targeted due to an unsettled debt.