Cyprus criminal court convicts Hezbollah member

Man faces eight charges in the criminal court in the city of Limassol; first conviction of Hezbollah member in EU court.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
March 21, 2013 12:48
3 minute read.
Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters gesture as they march in Beirut, November 2011

Hezbollah march, fighters 370. (photo credit: Reuters/Khalil Hassan)

 
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BERLIN – A criminal court in Limassol, Cyprus, on Thursday convicted Hossam Taleb Yaacoub of membership in a criminal organization.

The Swedish-Lebanese citizen admitted last month that he was a member of Hezbollah and had engaged in the surveillance of Israeli tourists. He was convicted on five of eight criminal charges.

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This marked the first time a Hezbollah member was found guilty in a European Union court of criminal activity with regard to the targeting of Israeli citizens.

Yaacoub is slated to be sentenced on March 28.

Hezbollah is not listed as a terror organization within the EU, and Cypriot authorities reduced the charges originally leveled against Yaacoub from terrorism to criminal offenses last year.

Yaacoub admitted that Hezbollah’s job was to observe Jews across the globe and that he had watched Israeli flights land in Cyprus.

A few weeks later, two alleged Hezbollah operatives engaged in similar activity and in July 2012 participated in the bombing of a tour bus in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver The New York Times quoted the head of the three-judge panel concerning Hezbollah’s role in a plot to murder Israeli tourists on the Mediterranean island.



“It has been proven that Hezbollah is an organization that operates under complete secrecy,” Judge Tasia Psara-Miltiadou said. “There is no doubt that this group has multiple members and proceeds with various activities including military training of its members.... The court rules that Hezbollah acts as a criminal organization.”

The then-Bulgarian interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, announced in February that Hezbollah operatives had been responsible for the Burgas attack. Tsvetanov said the two suspected Burgas perpetrators “were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah” and added that investigators had found information “showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.”

The foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party in the Bundestag, Philipp Missfelder, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the “legal verdict against Yaacoub should now make clear to the last sceptics that Hezbollah carries out terrorism on the European soil.”

Missfelder, who is a member of the Bundestag and expert on foreign affairs, added that “the EU should not accept this and is called on to list Hezbollah immediately as a terror organization.”

The European body is now discussing a ban on the Lebanon-based group. The Cyprus verdict could play a key role in moving recalcitrant countries like France to push for including Hezbollah on the EU terror list.

Germany has not taken an active role in pushing for an EU terror designation.

According to the country’s domestic intelligence agency, 950 Hezbollah members operate within the federal republic.

The Netherlands is the only EU country to have outlawed Hezbollah. The United Kingdom blacklisted its military wing in 2008.

“I’ve just returned from meetings on Hezbollah with European officials, and one recurring theme was they were all waiting to see what the court decided in Cyprus,” Dr. Matthew Levitt, a top authority on Hezbollah and a senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence told the Post on Thursday. “Unlike the Bulgarian case, the evidence in Cyprus – which has undergone full judicial scrutiny and cross-examination – is a matter of public record. The public airing of evidence presented in court makes this conviction especially compelling.”

Levitt is the author of the soon-to-be-released Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

“Last summer,” he continued, “Cyprus’s foreign minister pledged that ‘should there be tangible evidence of Hezbollah engaging in acts of terrorism, the EU would consider listing the organization.’ Now, here we are, tangible evidence in hand: The Burgas bombers traveled through Romania and Poland, the defendant in Cyprus through France and the Netherlands. How will Europe respond to Hezbollah’s challenge?”

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