Friday, March 22, 2013

Cyprus: Lebanese-Swedish Hezbollah Militant Faces 14 Years in Prison for Targeting Israelis

According to The New York Times, a Limassol court on Thursday (March 21) found a self-confessed Hezbollah militant, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, 24, guilty of involvement in a plot to attack Israeli interests on the Mediterranean island.
Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese and Swedish citizen arrested in the port of Limassol in July 2012 was found guilty on five counts, including participating in a criminal organization, taking part in a criminal act and money laundering.

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. The court will reconvene on March 28 to hear mitigating arguments and for sentencing.

The 24-year-old said he had been asked to log information on Israeli flight arrivals in Cyprus and jot down the number plates of buses carrying tourists from the Jewish state.

The court said Hezbollah had ordered him to carry out six missions on Cyprus since December 2011, and that he was paid a total of $4,800 by the powerful Shiite militant group. It said the accused contacted Hezbollah through various Internet cafes in different towns.

Cyprus is becoming increasingly popular for Israeli tourists, with arrivals in 2012 increasing 23.5% to 39,420.

COMMENT: 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 ally Hezbollah.

The defendant said he received orders from a masked Hezbollah operative called Ayman and was told to stake out hotels and hospitals on Cyprus, including in Limassol and the tourist resort of Ayia Napa.

As a matter of interest, Cyprus has been a gathering point for political extremists, Russian organized crime, money launderers and thugs of all sorts since the Turkish invasion of the island in July 1974.

I served in Cyprus as Senior Regional Security Officer at the US Embassy in Nicosia during 1975-1977 and as Chief Investigator of the US Cyprus Missing Persons Program on the Green Line during 1996-1998.