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Cyprus convicts Hezbollah member of helping plan attacks on Israelis

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub (R) is escorted by police as he arrives at the court in the southern Cypriot coastal city of Limassol on March 21, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU)

NICOSIA: A Cyprus criminal court found a Hezbollah member guilty Thursday of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the island in a decision that could raise pressure on the European Union to reconsider its stance toward the Lebanese group.

The three-judge bench in the town of Limassol found Swedish-Lebanese citizen Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, 24, guilty on five of eight charges including conspiracy and participation in a criminal organization.

Yaacoub denied being part of any plot to attack Israelis, but the court rejected his defense that he did not know how the information he was ordered to collect for Hezbollah would be used.

The court said there could be no “innocent explanation” of Yaacoub’s actions, which he “should have logically known” were linked to a criminal act.

Yaacoub admitted in court to being a loyal Hezbollah member and that he had been ordered by his shadowy handler in Lebanon – whom he only knew as Aiman – to collect information. The information included the arrival times of Israeli Arkia airlines flight IZ167 from Israel to Cyprus’ main airport as well as hotels in the coastal resorts where Israelis are known to stay. He also recorded license plate numbers of buses ferrying Arkia passengers from the airport.

He said he traveled to Cyprus on his Swedish passport at the end of 2011 and took photographs and made sketches of a hospital and a police station and was told to look for Cypriot restaurants serving kosher food, but found none. Yaacoub said he handed the information to Aiman on his return to Lebanon.

He admitted to receiving a monthly salary from Hezbollah and undergoing military training at a camp in Lebanon’s mountains, saying he was ferried there along with a dozen or so other trainees in a van with curtains so they couldn’t identify their location.

Defense attorney Antonis Georgiades said his client was considering an appeal. Georgiades said the charges carry a maximum 10 years in prison and a 50,000 euro fine.

He also admitted in court to acting as a courier for Hezbollah in France, the Netherlands and Turkey.

But the court said it wasn’t sufficiently proven that those missions intended to target Israelis and that it would limit its decision to the defendant’s actions in Cyprus.

Yaacoub was arrested last July just days before a July 18 bus bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 22, 2013, on page 3.

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