By Associated Press Writer
updated 3/21/2010 10:26:26 AM ET 2010-03-21T14:26:26

Cyprus police on Sunday arrested a Romanian man suspected of vandalizing the tombs of three Cyprus archbishops who led the island's Greek Orthodox church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a police spokesman said.

The 34-year-old suspect admitted to interrogators that he had removed the marble plaques covering the graves of Sofronios III, Kyrillos II and Kyrillos III overnight, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.

Officers arrested him when he entered a police station near the downtown Nicosia graveyard, left a bag of human excrement and tried to flee, Katsounotos said.

Nicosia district police chief Kypros Michaelides said the suspect has preoccupied police in the past over similar incidents and has admitted to having "a problem with the Church and holy places."

Police initially believed the remains of Sofronios III and Kyrillos II had been stolen, igniting fears of a copycat grave robbery two weeks after the stolen corpse of the island's former President Tassos Papadopoulos was found and reburied.

Katsounotos said the Cyprus church had reburied the remains of Kyrillos II years ago in his birth village of Prodromos in the Troodos mountain range, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Nicosia.

The remains of Kyrillos III were left undisturbed, while investigators were trying to determine whether the remains of Sofronios III were stolen or had also been reburied by the church.

The sitting archbishop, Chrysostomos II, condemned the vandalism and said authorities needed to step up security around cemeteries to prevent "brainless, blasphemous fools" from desecrating graves.

"God forbid if every muckraker is allowed to disturb our people's spiritual calm every so often," the archbishop said.

Officers discovered the vandalized tombs after responding to a pre-dawn fire at the graveyard that Michaelides said the suspect has also admitted to setting.

Grave robbing was virtually unheard of on Cyprus before Papadopoulos' body was snatched, and disturbing the remains of the deceased is deeply taboo among a mostly religious population.

In the Papadopoulos case, three suspects — including a convicted murderer serving life in prison — face charges of extortion over the Dec. 11 theft.

Investigators made arrests in that case after a suspect offered Papadopoulos' family the location of the ex-leader's body in exchange for cash to start a new life abroad. No money was ever paid.

Sofronios III, Kyrillos II and Kyrillos III led the Cypriot church between 1865 and 1947 during Ottoman and British colonial rule. The island gained independence in 1960.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments