Cypriots hold 5 suspected of terrorism

NICOSIA (AFP) – Five Pakistani nationals face terrorism-related charges in Cyprus after being arrested early yesterday for allegedly lying to security personnel about why they were loitering suspiciously at the island’s Paphos international airport. Police said Pakistani students Canveer Ahmed Chaudhary, 22, Muhammad Abdul Qayum, 22, Shahbaz Ali, 21, Muhammad Tahir Suleman, 22, and Muhammad Asif Nawaz, 23, face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime relating to terrorist acts. «The suspects have been placed in custody and will remain there until they appear in court for a remand hearing,» a Paphos police spokesman told AFP. [Cyprus Deputy Police Chief Sotiris Charalambous told Reuters they had been arrested «as suspects for planning to commit a possible terrorist act.»] The arrests came after Cyprus police and security services were put on heightened alert over the Christmas holidays following a foreign intelligence tip of a possible terrorist strike against US and British aircraft at the island’s two main international airports, or in Cypriot air space. State radio said National Guard units have been placed on standby to bolster beefed-up security at Paphos and Larnaca airports and head off any possible terrorist attack. [The suspects are expected to appear in court today to be formally charged.] The Paphos District Court had initially released the suspects early yesterday after police were forced to withdraw a remand request on technical grounds. State radio said the Pakistanis were arrested on charges of acting suspiciously at Paphos airport, but the charges brought against the suspects in court were terrorism-related. Police picked up the suspects a second time on the strength of a redrafted arrest warrant. State radio quoted Charalambous as saying the suspects had allegedly lied to airport staff. He said the five told security personnel they were waiting for a friend who was due to arrive on a flight from Birmingham, England. But Charalambous said a police check on the suspects’ story found that neither the passenger nor the flight existed.