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Tuesday, July 12, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

12 Cypriot sailors killed in military base explosion tied to confiscated containers

NICOSIA — At least 12 people were killed in an explosion in a naval base in Cyprus.


The Republic of Cyprus' Defense Ministry said the explosion took place on July 11 at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base, under the command of the Cypriot National Guard.

So far, Greek Cypriot authorities have not determined the cause of the blast. But officials said the explosion, which killed several Cypriot sailors, could have been the result of a brush fire that ignited gunpowder at the naval base.

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The gunpowder believed to have ignited the blast had been stored in containers confiscated from a ship bound for Syria in 2009. The ship, identified as the Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk, was said to have contained numerous Iranian weapons, including 125mm shells, meant for the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

Officials said two of the 98 containers of gunpowder caught fire and blew up.

The explosion, which killed the naval commander of the Greek Cypriot state, Andreas Ioannides, also caused widespread damage, including that of vehicles near the military facility.

"This was a great catastrophe," National Guard commander Gen. Petros Tsalikides said.

The blast also damaged the main power station in Cyprus and sparked outages in several areas. The airports at Larnaca and Paphos have already reduced power consumption.

"There are several parts of the island that are without power," Costas Gavrilidis, a spokesman for state power utility AHK, said.

Officials said the explosion also injured 62 people, all of them Cypriots.

Hours later, Defense Minister Costas Papacostas and Tsalikides, the National Guard chief, submitted their resignations.

"Decisions were taken on protecting the material, but unfortunately there was not enough time for these decisions to be implemented," government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said.

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