Girl snatched in Cyprus, sparking manhunt

Cyprus police patrol the streets of Nicosia

Masked men abducted a four-year-old girl outside a nursery in the Cypriot capital on Thursday, sparking a search by police who issued an arrest warrant for her Norwegian father.

The girl was snatched and forcibly taken from her mother as she was dropping her off at the nursery in Nicosia, police said.

The two masked men got into a black jeep with a getaway driver before they sped away, they said.

Police issued an arrest warrant for the girl's father, who is separated from her Greek Cypriot mother and lives in Norway.

"A big operation is currently underway to locate her and police are on alert at all the crossing points, ports and airports within the Republic of Cyprus," said police spokesman Andreas Angelides.

The girl was wearing a pink T-shirt and leggings at the time of the abduction.

"We are calling on the public with any information as to the vehicle in question or the whereabouts of a girl matching the description to contact us at once," Angelides told state television.

The father's lawyer was with the girl, media in Norway reported, but his whereabouts was unknown.

"My client has indicated that he has been reunited with his daughter and that they are fine. I can't comment the case beyond that," his lawyer Morten Engesbak said, quoted by the Aftenposten newspaper.

The parents are involved in a bitter custody dispute.

It is widely believed the abduction is related to a previous kidnapping attempt last year in the divided island of Cyprus.

In February 2016, an alleged Norwegian mercenary and two other men were taken into custody at a Nicosia crossing point into breakaway northern Cyprus -- a potential escape route for kidnappings.

Their detention came after reports they had come to the island to take the child from her mother.

"The child's mother had secured an injunction from Cyprus to have the child returned to her from the father -- who is Norwegian and whom she had separated from," Angelides told the Cyprus Weekly newspaper at the time.

The men were eventually released due to lack of evidence and deported from Cyprus.