JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israel said its Mossad intelligence service carried out an operation in Iran to capture the suspected leader of an Iranian plot to attack Israeli businesspeople in Cyprus and thwart the attack.
“In a unique operation on Iranian soil, the Mossad captured the head of the cell, who, during an investigation, gave a detailed confession that led to the exposure and dismantlement of the terrorist cell behind the Cyprus attack,” the Mossad said in a statement.
Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Mossad did not say when the capture took place, where the suspect is now nor when the Cyprus attack would have happened. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said an attack had been foiled but did not give details. Cyprus at that time declined to comment.
The Israeli agency identified the suspect as Yousef Shahabazi Abbasalilu and said he “received detailed instructions and weapons from senior (officials) in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards” to carry out such an attack.
Netanyahu’s office, which oversees the Mossad, released a video appearing to show Abbasalilu recalling conversations he had with members of the Revolutionary Guard.
Speaking at the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu said Israel was “working without respite” to thwart attempts by Iran and its proxies to attack Israel, including “in neighbouring countries that are not in conflict with us”.
Iran and Israel are longtime foes. Israel accuses Iran of backing militant attacks against it, while Iran says Israel has carried out a number of killings of Iranian officials.
U.S., European and Israeli officials fear Iran may seek nuclear weapons. Tehran denies such ambitions.
“We will not accept Iran’s intentions to develop a nuclear arsenal,” Netanyahu said, adding that any nuclear deal between the United States and Tehran would not bind Israel. “We will maintain our right and our obligation to defend ourselves, with our own forces, against any threat whatsoever, throughout the Middle East.”