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Grave robbers steal Cyprus Archbishops' remains

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Grave robbers on Sunday stole the remains of two Cyprus Archbishops who led the island's Greek Orthodox church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, police said.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said the Archbishops' coffins were found missing after officers responded to a pre-dawn fire at a downtown Nicosia graveyard where the tombs of Sofronios III and Kyrillos II are located.

Katsounotos said a marble plaque over the adjacent tomb of another Archbishop — Kyrillos III — had been moved, but that his remains were left undisturbed.

The theft comes less than two weeks after the stolen corpse of the island's former president Tassos Papadopoulos was found and reburied. 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 the arrests 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.

Katsounotos said it's too early to determine whether the latest grave robbing is the work of copycats.

“It appears that we're dealing with another sacrilege and unfortunately, is seems that there are some people in this society with very sick minds,” said Katsounotos.

Sofronios III and Kyrillos II led the Cypriot church between 1865 and 1916 during Ottoman and British colonial rule. The island gained independence in 1960.

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