NICOSIA – A suspected stray missile crashed north of the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, early on Monday, but no one was hurt, Turkish Cypriot officials said.
The explosion occurred around 1 a.m. local time in the region of Tashkent, also known as Vouno, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Nicosia, with the impact setting hills ablaze and heard for miles around.
Mustafa Akinci, the Turkish Cypriot leader, linked the incident to military operations in the Middle East but further investigations were under way by the military to establish what it was, he said.
“It is evident it is not something stemming from our soil. … It is one of the bad sides of the war in the region falling into our country,” he said.
Cyprus is close to Syria. Israeli warplanes fired missiles targeting Syrian military positions in Homs and the Damascus outskirts overnight in an attack that killed at least four civilians and wounded another 21.
If verified, it would be the first time that Cyprus has been caught in the crosshairs of military operations in the Middle East, despite its proximity to the region.
Officials were studying debris at the crash site, said Kudret Ozersay, the foreign minister of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey.
He said it was not immediately clear what caused the crash.
“Initial findings indicate the object that caused the explosion was either an aircraft carrying explosives or a direct explosive (missile). The writings and signs on the debris will allow us to understand exactly what happened soon,” Ozersay said.
A Greek Cypriot military analyst, Andreas Pentaras, said the debris suggested it was a Russian-made S-200 missile.
“An assessment from the pictures made public shows the base of its wings. It has Russian writing on it, so it suggests it is Russian made. Syria uses Russian-made missiles, so a not-so-safe assessment would be it was … an S-200,” Pentaras, a retired army general, told Sigma TV in Cyprus.
Jamming technology could have diverted the missile, he said.
Residents told Cypriot media they saw a light in the sky then three loud explosions were heard for miles around. Tashkent is a small village in the foothills of a mountain range rimming northern Cyprus. Authorities evacuated some homes.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5