Cyprus Convicts Hizbullah Operative Over Anti-Israel Plot
A Cypriot court convicted on Thursday a self-confessed Hizbullah operative who had been accused of involvement in a plot to attack Israeli interests on the Mediterranean island.
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese and Swedish citizen arrested in the port of Limassol in July last year, was found guilty on five counts -- including participating in a criminal organization, taking part in a criminal act and money laundering.
"Any logical explanation that could present these actions as innocent ones is completely lacking," judges in the Limassol criminal court said in an 80-page decision on how they reached their verdict, as reported by AFP.
"The purpose of Hizbullah in connection with the actions of the accused, constitute a criminal organization in this regard... based on the specific actions of the accused in Cyprus," the decision said.
Yaacoub, who faces a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, was however cleared of three charges pertaining to conspiracy to commit a crime because they were covered by the other offenses.
Yaacoub told the court last month he had collected information on Israeli tourists visiting the island, but denied plotting attacks.
The 24-year-old said he had been asked to log information on Israeli flight arrivals in Cyprus and document the number plates of buses carrying tourists from the Jewish state.
He said he was unaware of the purpose of the acquired information and was arrested last July before he could communicate the data to a handler, whom he did not know, in Lebanon.
The court said Hizbullah had ordered him to carry out six missions on Cyprus since December 2011, and that he was paid a total of 4,800 dollars by the Shiite terrorist group.
It said the accused contacted Hizbullah through various Internet cafes in different towns.
Cyprus is becoming ever more popular for Israeli tourists, with arrivals in 2012 increasing 23.5 percent to 39,420, according to AFP.
Shortly after Yaacoub's arrest, five Israeli tourists and their local driver were killed in a bus bombing at an airport in Bulgaria, the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004, which Israel blamed on Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hizbullah.
Reacting to Thursday's court ruling, an Israeli official told AFP that Hizbullah's involvement in "terrorism" is clear.
"There is abundant proof that Hizbullah is, and always has been, deeply involved in terrorist activities in Europe and elsewhere and those who do not want to see this are simply covering their eyes," the official said on condition of anonymity.
In his testimony, Yaacoub denied planning any attack, but did admit to being involved with Hizbullah for the past four years while also insisting he worked solely in its political branch.
The defendant said he received orders from a masked Hizbullah operative called Ayman and was told to stake out hotels and hospitals on Cyprus, including in Limassol and the tourist resort of Ayia Napa.
He said his main reason for coming to Cyprus was business-related -- to buy local fruit juice.