Cypriot authorities were combing lakes for the remains of three women and a girl dumped by a suspected serial killer, in a "Good Friday" hunt for bodies that has shocked the island.
The search focused on two lakes southwest of Nicosia where the suspect, named in local media as Nicos Metaxas, a 35-year-old Greek Cypriot army officer, allegedly confessed to having dumped the bodies.
The suspect has admitted to killing seven foreign women and underage girls in total, according to police sources, and police have already recovered three bodies, all Filipina housemaids.
The stepped-up search at the lakes, normally used as picnic sites in the foothills of the Troodos mountains, coincided with the day that Greek Cypriots mark the Orthodox Good Friday.
Cyprus fire chief Marcos Trangolas was at the roped-off crime scene at Memi Lake in Xyliantos to follow up on the search along with several high-level police and intelligence officials.
"Today we are planning to send in divers in order to search step by step the lake according to information we received from the police,” his spokesman Andreas Kettia told AFP.
He said the suspect was on site with the rescue teams and that they were working in tandem with a specialised diving company to locate and recover the bodies.
At the other crime site at Red Lake in Mitsero, a 10-minute drive away, Kettia said robotic equipment would be sent in to search its acidic, copper-colluded waters.
"Many times we’ve dealt with rescuing people or animals from dams... but never something at this grade," the spokesman said.
Police sources have said authorities are also looking into cases involving an Asian woman as well as that of a Romanian mother and her young daughter reported missing in 2016.
The suspect on Thursday showed investigators the spot where he had dumped a body in a well at an army firing range outside the capital.
Local media have dubbed the case the island's "first serial killings" after two bodies, both believed to be Filipinas, were recovered from an abandoned mineshaft since April 14.
Cypriot police are also searching for the body of a missing six-year-old Filipina girl, daughter of one of the murdered women, in a case which has shocked many living on the holiday island that is relatively free of serious crimes.
- 'Letter of apology' -
President Nicos Anastasiades, in a statement issued by the palace on Friday, condemned "these hideous crimes" against foreign women.
"Shocked by the revelation of so many shameful murders against innocent foreign women and young children," the president expressed "deepest sorrow and strong concern".
"He also acknowledges the indignation of Cypriot society over murders that seem to have selectively targeted foreign women in our country to work, as this is contrary to the tradition and values of our culture," his office said.
The news website Kathimerini Cyprus wrote a "letter of apology" to the victims' families.
"The tragedy surrounding the serial killer murders is not only a crime against the victims and their families. It is also a crime against the country, carried out by an assassin... but also perpetrated by a state and a society that is constantly developing xenophobic tendencies and racist behaviours," it said.
"And this problem gets magnified by provocatively ineffective state machinery that serves two groups separately: 'Cypriots' and 'foreigners'," it said, referring to reports that authorities failed to take action after the foreign women were initially reported missing.