Cyprus bomb-plot suspect admits Hezbollah ties

Lebanese-Swede accused of July terror plot against Israeli tourists in Cyprus sheds light on Hezbollah activities in court testimony.

Cyprus port of Limmasol_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Cyprus port of Limmasol_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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.
The New 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 citizens.
The Cypriot prosecution is slated to cross-examine Yaacoub on Thursday, and the case may run until March 7, with a verdict anticipated in mid-March.
“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 attack.
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 militia.
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 place.
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.
“Hezbollah 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 incidents.