Cypriot court convicts Hezbollah militant for anti-Israeli plot
Agence France-Presse in Limassol, Cyprus
A self-confessed Hezbollah militant accused of being part of a plot to attack Israeli interests on the Mediterranean island has been convicted of multiple charges by a court in Cyprus.
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese and Swedish citizen arrested in the port of Limassol in July last year, was found guilty on Thursday on five counts, including participating in a criminal organisation, taking part in a criminal act and money laundering.
"Any logical explanation that could present these actions as innocent ones is completely lacking," judges in the Limassol criminal court said in an 80-page decision laying out how they reached their verdict.
"The purpose of Hezbollah in connection with the actions of the accused, constitute a criminal organisation in this regard ... based on the specific actions of the accused in Cyprus," the decision added.
Yaacoub, who faces 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 offences. The court will reconvene on March 28 for sentencing.
Yaacoub, 24, told the court last month that he had collected information on Israeli tourists visiting the island, but denied plotting to attack them.
He said he had been asked to log information on Israeli flight arrivals in Cyprus and jot down the number plates of buses carrying Jewish tourists.
He claimed to be unaware what the information was for and was arrested in July before he could communicate anything to a handler, whom he did not know, in Lebanon.
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 US$4,800 by the powerful militant group.
It said the accused contacted Hezbollah through internet cafes in different towns.
Cyprus is becoming increasingly popular for Israeli tourists, with arrivals last year increasing 23.5 per cent on 2011, to 39,420.
Shortly after Yaacoub's arrest, five Israeli tourists and their Cypriot 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 ally Hezbollah.
Reacting to the court ruling, an Israeli official said that Hezbollah's involvement in terrorism was clear. "There is abundant proof that Hezbollah is, and always has been, deeply involved in terrorist activities in Europe and elsewhere," the official said.
The verdict was welcomed by United States officials, who said Hezbollah was engaging in "increasingly aggressive terrorist activity" globally in the past year.