A diver enters a lake to search for female bodies in the near village of Xiliatos outside of capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, April 26, 2019. Cyprus police are intensifying a search for the remains of more victims at locations where an army officer _ who authorities say admitted to killing five women and two girls - had dumped their bodies. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus faces prospect of serial killer, searches for bodies

April 26, 2019 - 9:44 am

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus faced the prospect of a potential serial killer Friday after police said a detained military officer confessed to killing five foreign women and two girls. The country's president expressed "deep sorrow and concern" at the slayings, many of them Asian women who came to work on the Mediterranean island nation.

As President Nicos Anastasiades spoke, police intensified their search for more bodies possibly dumped at a firing range, a reservoir and a man-made lake near an abandoned mine 32 kilometers (20 miles) west of Nicosia, the capital.

The scale of the alleged crimes by a Cypriot National Guard captain has horrified the small nation of over a million people, where multiple killings are rare. Five British law enforcement officials — including a coroner, a psychiatrist and investigators who specialize in multiple homicides — were coming in to help with the investigation.

Anastasiades said he shares the public's revulsion at "murders that appear to have selectively targeted foreign women who are in our country to work."

"Such instincts are contrary to our culture's traditions and values," he said in a statement from China, where he was on an official visit. He urged calm so police can complete their investigation.

On Thursday, the 35-year-old suspect, who can't yet be named because he hasn't been formally charged, told investigators that he had killed four more people than he had previously admitted to. Police said the suspect will appear in court Saturday for another custody hearing.

The victims — all foreigners— include Marry Rose Tiburcio, 38, from the Philippines, whose bound body was found April 14 in a flooded mineshaft. She and her six-year-old daughter had been missing since May of last year.

The girl remains missing and authorities believe she was also slain by the suspect. Divers have entered the reservoir to search for her but have not found her body yet.

Authorities tracked down the officer last week by scouring Tiburcio's online messages.

Six days later, police discovered another body April 20 in the same mineshaft, identified by Cypriot media as 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano, also from the Philippines.

A third alleged victim, also of Filipino descent, is 31-year-old Maricar Valtez Arquiola, who had been missing since December 2017. The suspect initially denied killing Arquiola but reversed himself after a court hearing Thursday, a police official said.

The suspect on Thursday also pointed investigators to a military firing range, where they discovered another unidentified body, which according to the suspect belongs to a woman of either Nepalese or Indian descent.

Cypriot police are also looking for a Romanian mother and daughter. Cypriot media identified them as Livia Florentina Bunea, 36, and eight-year-old Elena Natalia Bunea, who are believed to have been missing since September 2016.

The man-made lake remains off-limits to a manned search because of high levels of toxic heavy metals from the copper pyrite mine, Fire Service Chief Marcos Trangolas said, adding that authorities will use other means to scour the lake.

Cyprus police have faced criticism from immigrant activists who said they didn't act fast enough to investigate the whereabouts of some of the victims, many of them domestic workers. The island nation has 80 unsolved missing persons cases, going back to 1990.

Police chief Zacharias Chrysostomou said a three-member panel has been assigned to probe whether police followed all the correct protocol in recent missing persons cases.

According to the state-run Cyprus News Agency, an investigator had told the court at an earlier hearing that the suspect admitted to killing one woman he met online after having sex with her.

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