A man is being accused of double murder in the case of two Russian women, with police being criticized on social media for initially missing the burial site and officials responding that the discovery was made possible following a tough suspect interrogation late at night.
(Click here for an update to the story)
The bodies of two female Russian nationals were unearthed on Sunday at a remote cottage in rural Limassol, a number of days after a law enforcement search on site had been completed with police saying only blood stains had been found in the area.
Authorities believe 33-year-old Mariia Gazibagandova from Dagestan and 43-year-old Alraeesi Khaiat from Syria, both Russian nationals living in Larnaca on tourist visas, were shot to death by a 32-year-old man described as Cypriot national of Syrian origins.
The suspect, who was initially arrested and detained on abduction charges, was re-arrested on murder charges Sunday but police did not reveal a suspected motive in the case.
'What an astounding statement if one considers the technical means that exist in 2021 along with actual evidence that had been found placing the incident in Kato Amiandos'
Last month police had kept the suspect’s arrest under wraps for days until a daily newspaper broke the story, with local media reporting the Syrian man denied harming Gazibagandova and Khaiat and named another man who would know about the whereabouts of the two women.
But after the arrest of a 23-year-old Syrian male, who was already wanted for other offenses, police said the second suspect was not involved in the case, pointing to phone data and other evidence that appeared to incriminate the 32-year-old.
Gazibagandova and Khaiat were reported missing last month with reports saying police had been told initially they went to the cottage to hook up with the main suspect and another unidentified male in exchange for money. It was also later reported that the sum of €2500, allegedly agreed to be paid for sex according to the 32-year-old, was in fact cash destined to pay for illegal drugs and that things did not go as planned.
Unconfirmed reports cited sources speculating that a possible motive was linked to concerns the Syrian man had over the two women who appeared to be “making fun of his background” or trying to deceive him after he had returned from a hunting trip.
Police did not comment publicly on the motive but local media said the suspect’s Greek Cypriot wife had earlier confirmed to authorities that her husband did have a hunting rifle, while reports also said two shell casings had been found near the dumpster at the cottage.
Tough late night interrogation by Larnaca detectives
Local media said the main suspect was being interrogated late at night when he broke down and confessed Sunday early morning at 2am.
While CID Limassol have been investigating double murder after taking over the abduction case, CID Larnaca conducted a late night interrogation of the suspect.
“Yesterday, while being interrogated by CID Larnaca officers, the 32-year-old appeared to have confessed the murder of the two women, while he pointed out a specific location in the yard of a friend’s residence where the two bodies had been buried,” a police report said on Sunday.
But police have been heavily criticized on social media for failing to locate the burial site, which was said to have been in the yard some 30 feet from the cottage, which belonged to a friend of the suspect who was also given the keys to carry out construction work.
The suspect, according to police, said he got help from two males in digging the grave, which was not spotted during multiple searches on the property in Kato Amiandos. He allegedly told investigators two individuals who did not know about the dead women had helped dig the grave, while he had told them he was planning to build a barbecue grill there.
On Sunday Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou defended law enforcement over delays in finding the bodies, saying all tools had been utilized in the search “except that, if you take a look at the ground, both depth and surface, you will concur that their discovery was impossible without the perpetrator pointing out the exact location.”
Why did police abandon the area?
“But why did the police abandon the area?” a state radio host asked on Monday morning.
Police spokesperson Christos Andreou said officials had enlisted a number of tools including drones and satellite images in the search of the two women, attributing the failure possibly to weather conditions and lack of specialized equipment.
Local high-powered attorney Christos Triantafyllides took to social media to criticize the Chief’s remark that “if the suspect did not talk it would have been impossible to locate the bodies of the two women.”
“What an astounding statement if one considers the technical means that exist in 2021 along with actual evidence that had been found placing the incident in Kato Amiandos,” Triantafyllides wrote on Twitter.
Another user replied to the comment saying police knew all along but wanted to wait for a confession to make the trial easier, while others questioned the abilities of officers who had been circling the area with sniffing dogs.
Andreou pushed back on the criticism, saying there was information not shared with the public while conditions had been difficult. He also said specialized equipment could have been brought in from foreign countries.
Police first arrived on the scene in late November.
Reports speculated that police had missed the grave after rain in the area, while the soil at the exact location had been covered with large pebbles according to local media on Sunday.
A yellow warning had gone into effect Sunday early morning for potential severe storms in parts of the island.
Gazibagandova and Khaiat, who traveled to Cyprus on a tourist visa, had been staying in Larnaca where another person reported them missing on November 19 after they faile toi return from the mountains. The exact dates of their disappearance and death have not yet been established.