Cyprus jails Hezbollah man for plot to kill Israelis

Criminal court in Limassol sentences Hezbollah operative to 4 years prison for plotting to kill Israeli tourists.

El Al airplanes sit on the runway 370 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
El Al airplanes sit on the runway 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
BERLIN – A criminal court in Limassol, Cyprus, on Thursday sentenced Hossam Taleb Yaacoub to four years in prison for plotting to kill Israeli tourists on the island.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Yaacoub has 10 days to appeal his conviction. He admitted his membership in Hezbollah and that he watched Israeli flights land in Cyprus and documented the movements of Israelis and the locations they stayed at.
“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the republic,” the three-member court said during sentencing.
The Cypriot court convicted Yaacoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.
Yaacoub’s conviction may add greater urgency to European Union talks on whether to include Hezbollah in its terror list. EU countries such as Austria and Germany have including Hezbollah on its terror list because of insufficient legal evidence. The Cyprus conviction represents the first conviction of a Hezbollah member in a European court.
The 24-year-old Yaacoub is a Swedish-Lebanese citizen who used France and the Netherlands as locations to carry out work for Hezbollah, according to his testimony at the trial.
He was convicted of five out of eight criminal charges.
Yaacoub was arrested two weeks before an alleged Iran- Hezbollah operation blew up an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria in July 2012, killing five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. An additional 32 Israelis were wounded.
Yaacoub pleaded not guilty.
He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.
Yaacoub’s jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.
Meanwhile, two alleged Hezbollah operatives who participated in the Bulgaria bombing are believed to be in Lebanon. Both used European locations to carry out their terror attack, including traveling through Poland and Romania.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov, then- Bulgarian interior minister, announced in February that Hezbollah operatives had been responsible for the Burgas attack. Tsvetanov said the two suspected 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.”
Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister, Marin Raikov, said Bulgaria will “provide needed evidence” to place Hezbollah on EU’s terror blacklist.
But many European governments are cautious about imposing sanctions on Hezbollah, arguing it could fuel tensions in the Middle East.
Raikov has said Bulgaria will not initiate the EU procedure for blacklisting Hezbollah.
Any other EU government could request such a move, but none has yet done so.
Some EU countries were “not sufficiently convinced” by Bulgaria’s evidence, Raikov said in Brussels on Wednesday.
“For Bulgaria, it is of key importance to have a common position, to have a consensus on this [within the EU],” he told reporters during a visit to NATO headquarters.
“We will continue the investigation. We will continue to work on this very seriously, very actively. We will provide the needed evidence,” he said.
“But it’s not for Bulgaria to initiate the technical procedure for the listing [of Hezbollah]. I think that our partners will be able to do this, once they reach a certain level of consensus on this issue,” he said.
Bulgaria has not given a reason for not requesting an EU listing of Hezbollah. But Bulgarian opposition groups have argued the country could open itself up to more attacks, if it takes the lead in blacklisting Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has dismissed Bulgaria’s accusations and accused Israel of waging a smear campaign against it.
Israel and the United Sates blamed the attack in Burgas on Iran and Hezbollah. Iran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of plotting and carrying out the bus bombing.
Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati resigned last week after a cabinet dispute with Hezbollah, a dominant force in Lebanese politics.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier this month that Britain would be in favor of Hezbollah’s military wing being blacklisted at the European level, which would result in European governments and companies being required to cease any financial dealings with groups on the list.
France has resisted including Hezbollah in the EU terror list, because it fears that it will lose diplomatic leverage in Lebanon. The Netherlands lists Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terror entity.
Reuters contributed to this report.