NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Three men including a "paranoid" convicted felon allegedly plotted to assassinate the country's attorney general using an anti-tank weapon, a police investigator told a court on Monday.
The court granted a police request to keep the three suspects in police custody for eight days until investigators build their case against them. The suspected ringleader is 61-year-old Andreas Ounoufriou, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the 1996 attempted murder of a judge. The trio faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder and possession of military-grade explosives, a missile launcher and other weapons.
Police investigator Ioannis Georgadjis told a Nicosia District Court that Ounoufriou allegedly masterminded the foiled killing of attorney general Petros Clerides from behind bars a few months before he was due to be released from a four-year sentence for an earlier prison escape. Ounoufriou, believed to harbor intense hatred for Clerides and other figures of authority, allegedly recruited the other two men, aged 39 and 52, to help him carry out his plan.
Georgadjis said Ounoufriou planned the hit in prison so that he could argue that he couldn't have been involved because he was still behind bars. Under cross examination, the police investigator didn't disclose anything more about Ounoufriou's possible motivation, saying that the investigation was ongoing.
According to the investigator, an informer tipped off police about the plot earlier this month and the suspects were placed under surveillance. The killing was allegedly planned for Oct. 28 near Clerides' home, using the Turkish-made light anti-tank weapon.
The suspects were arrested on the night of the alleged hit in a police sting after the suspected triggerman went to pick up the rocket launcher from a man working for law enforcement. Police had earlier tracked down the rocket launcher to where it lay hidden, and switched it with another without the explosive warhead.
Ounoufriou, who spoke in his own defense during the court hearing, dismissed the allegations as a "fabrication" by another convicted felon who concocted the story so he could negotiate his release from prison.
Cyprus Police Chief Michalis Papageorgiou said police have information that the suspects had also marked another individual for assassination and that more people may have been on a 'hit list' which investigators are trying to verify.
Georgadjis told the court that it was necessary for the suspects to remain in custody because police believe they would either flee abroad or try to influence witnesses.