BERLIN – Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, one of the suspects in a thwarted terrorist
attack against Israelis in Cyprus in July, admitted on Wednesday in court that
he is a member of Hezbollah.
Yaacoub, a 24-year old Lebanese-Swedish
citizen, faces eight charges in the criminal court in the city of Limassol. The
Cypriot authorities charged him with membership in a criminal organization whose
aim is “carrying out missions in any part of the world, including the Cyprus
Republic, against Israeli citizens,” among seven other crimes – reduced from an
original 17 terrorism-related charges.
The Jerusalem Post has learned
that Yaacoub said under oath on Wednesday that while he came to Cyprus without
Hezbollah connections, he met with an operative named Ayman from the Lebanese
terrorist group. Yaacoub said he knew how to use weapons but that the purpose of
his visit to Cyprus was business.
It is unclear if Yaacoub’s meeting with
the Hezbollah operative took place in Cyprus, Lebanon or Sweden.
York Times reported on Wednesday that Yaacoub told the court, “I never saw the
face of Ayman because he was always wearing a mask,” and that Ayman picked
Yaacoub up in a van. Yaacoub conducted surveillance of places where Israelis
would visit, including a “parking lot behind a Limassol hospital and a hotel
called the Golden Arches,” the Times reported.
Magnus Ranstorp, a
Hezbollah expert at Sweden’s National Defense College, told the Post on Tuesday
that Hezbollah uses “talent scouting” to recruit operatives for its activities
abroad. Though Hezbollah had no “overt presence” in Sweden, he said, its members
from Sweden keep “popping up regularly.”
Last year, Thai authorities
charged Atris Hussein, a Hezbollah operative and a Swedish-Lebanese citizen,
with planning to use explosives to strike against American and Israeli
The Cypriot prosecution is slated to cross-examine Yaacoub on
Thursday, and the case may run until March 7, with a verdict anticipated in
“I’m only trained to defend Lebanon,” the Times quoted Yaacoub
as saying. It noted that “he was arrested in July with the license plates of
buses ferrying Israelis written in a small red notebook.”
He “said that
he wrote them down because one of the license numbers, LAA- 505, reminded him of
a Lamborghini sports car, while the other, KWK-663, reminded him of a Kawasaki
motorcycle,” the Times wrote.
The Cypriot paper Simerini reported last
week that Yaacoub “apologized” for his role in the planned
According to the Greek-language newspaper’s report, Yaacoub’s
attorney asked for a week-long postponement of the trial in order to prepare in
writing the avowed apology of his client. The court determined that there is
evidence for a prima facie case against Yaacoub.
France, Germany and
Sweden have resisted including Hezbollah in the EU terror list, but a conviction
in Cyprus might be a tipping point toward sanctioning the Lebanese
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov announced earlier
this month that Hezbollah operatives were responsible for the July explosion in
Burgas that killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver, which occurred
several weeks after Yaacoub’s arrest.
Tsvetanov announced the two
suspected Burgas perpetrators “were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,”
and added that investigators have found information “showing the financing and
connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.”
The suspects in the
Burgas case observed the Black sea resort town – a popular destination for
Israeli vacationers – from late June to July 18, when the attack took
Yaacoub is believed to have engaged in a similar method of
surveillance of Israeli tourists in Cyprus.
Yaacoub is not married and
lived in the Swedish town of Lidköping, where his father runs a pottery
business. The Post could not confirm a report that when Yaacoub was arrested he
was studying journalism in Lebanon.
Ranstorp told the Post there was a
pattern by Hezbollah “to use individuals to bypass Israeli security,” citing the
example of the two Burgas bombing suspects using Australian and Canadian
passports to enter Bulgaria and plan their terrorist attack.
and Iran are two sides of the same coin,” Ranstorp said. “They form a nexus,
sometimes more overt, sometimes less. That Hezbollah is involved in terrorism
with Iranian intelligence is what makes them so dangerous. One should not take
them lightly,” he said.
“With Burgas, Hezbollah has crossed a rubicon,”
because the attack was on European soil, said Ranstorp, adding that “now it is
easy to close the door on Hezbollah” because there have been too many such