Source: Cyprus on lookout for Syria-bound jihadis

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 10:40 AM

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus has intensified screening at its ports, airports and checkpoints that dot the island's dividing line to prevent Europeans from passing through en route to Syria to join the Islamic State group, an official said Wednesday.

The security official said since Turkey has tightened security measures to stem the flow of potential jihadis to Syria, it's possible that Europeans posing as tourists could travel to Cyprus, cross into the island's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, then head into Syria that way. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss security issues.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming to unite the island with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and maintains direct sea and air links with it.

He said the stepped-up security measures include tougher police scrutiny at seven crossing points along the island's 180-kilometer (110-mile) U.N.-controlled buffer zone.

With a roughly 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria and a 330-kilometer (200-mile) border with Iraq, Turkey's attraction as an entry point for jihadi fighters is obvious. Ankara insists it has increased security checks at ports and airports. A Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment on security said recently that 2,000 people had been interrogated, 1,400 deported and more than 7,000 denied entry into Turkey since October 2013.

The Cypriot official said authorities have no information to indicate that would-be jihadists have made it to Syria through Cyprus, but they are in touch with foreign intelligence services to help intercept such individuals.