Authorities went on high alert Sunday after prank calls caused evacuations in two shopping malls and a casino as well as an airplane that was about to take off in Larnaca.
Police ordered the evacuation of Kings Avenue Mall in Paphos and Limassol Mall on Sunday afternoon, following an email message warning of “suspicious items” at both shopping centres. A caller also gave a similar warning at Larnaca International Airport about a departing aircraft around 3pm.
Officers and security guards immediately assisted the evacuation of shoppers, while traffic congestion around both malls was widely reported following the incident. Officials later said the exit of hundreds of people took place in an orderly fashion.
Air passengers on an outbound flight at LCA also disembarked safely while sniffing dogs scoured the plane including checked baggage, according to reports.
Nothing suspicious had been found following the completion of a thorough search, including the bomb squad checking and clearing every single store one by one. Both malls were reopened and passengers were allowed to re-board the flight around 5:30pm.
Hours later, around 8:30pm, another phone call came in threatening of a bomb at Nicosia’s new satellite casino in Engomi. The building was immediately evacuated and searched with officials later saying nothing suspicious had been found.
"Just keep walking"
Some reports said public announcements were initially warning mall shoppers to evacuate the premises citing ventilation problems but security guards blocked access to parking lots and asked people to “keep walking.”
A television report also said rumours were starting to spread among shoppers during evacuation that officials were looking for a bomb. Police told Knews the notification alert that was sent out from the very beginning only spoke of a suspicious item and there was no reference to an explosive device.
Officials, who declined to share the email message with the media, were said to be examining the electronic communication to ascertain its origins and motive. Local media said the unknown sender was purportedly an individual who said he or she had knowledge of the alleged incidents and was only trying to warn authorities.
An April Fool’s Day prank was not ruled out according to media speculation, while law enforcement officials were looking into a possibility that the casino bomb threat might have been related to the earlier threats.
Two Russian nationals were questioned on Monday in connection with the email that was reportedly sent to Larnaca airport.