Terror suspect in Cyprus admits to Hezbollah ties

Man on trial, arrested days before Burgas attack, says he was tasked with staking out Israeli targets; denies preparing attack

Nicosia, Cyprus (photo credit: Mihai Doarna/Wikimedia Commons/File)
Nicosia, Cyprus (photo credit: Mihai Doarna/Wikimedia Commons/File)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A man being tried on allegations he planned attacks on Israeli tourists in Cyprus has admitted to being a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah and staking out locations that such visitors frequent but denied preparing an attack, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub’s admissions follow accusations that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah was behind a bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists. Authorities here have been reluctant to link the Cyprus case to the attack in Bulgaria, but both have fed concerns about terrorist activity in Europe.

Lawyer Antonis Georgiades noted that Yaacoub, who is Swedish and Lebanese, told a Cyprus court that he came to this country on business with no plan to harm anyone. But Yaacoub, 24, also admitted that an unidentified man in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, gave him the “mission” of recording flight arrivals and bus routes of Israeli tourists and checking out a hospital parking lot.

Georgiades said Yaacoub acted alone in Cyprus and that instructions where given to him “in complete secrecy” by a man whose face he couldn’t see. The lawyer said that while his client’s actions may raise suspicions, there is no hard proof that Yaacoub was planning an attack.

Cyprus police arrested Yaacoub last July, several days before the bombing that killed the five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver.

Yaacoub pleaded not guilty to eight charges including conspiracy and consent to commit a criminal offense and participation in a criminal organization. Yaacoub initially faced 17 terrorism and terrorism-related charges according to police, but prosecutors dropped any reference to terrorism in the new charges without explanation.

The European Union, of which Cyprus is a member, has not formally designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but experts say that a conviction in the Yaacoub case would significantly up the pressure on the bloc to make such a designation.

According to notes explaining the charges, prosecutors say Yaacoub knowingly conspired with others to “abduct a person for the purpose of subjecting him to harm or attacking him to cause grievous bodily harm” and was prepared to carry out missions around the world on the orders of others against Israeli citizens.

Yaacoub is alleged to have carried out his surveillance and recording of movements between November 2011 and January 2012 and in the first week of July 2012.

In testimony before the court, he admitted to being on “previous missions with Hezbollah,” in Antalya, Turkey, as well as in Holland and France.

Officials in Cyprus have tried to keep publicity regarding the case to a minimum, declining in most instances to comment or release documents, according to The New York Times.

A verdict in the trial is expected in March.

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