Last week, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24-year-old Lebanese-Swedish dual citizen who was arrested on July 7, 2012, admitted in court to being a member of Hezbollah. While Yaacoub, who had the code-name Wael, denied that he had intended to conduct an attack on Israeli tourists in Cyprus, he confessed to “staking out locations Israelis would frequent and acting as a courier for [Hezbollah] inside the European Union.”
In addition, Yaacoub admitted to “recording flight arrivals and bus routes of Israeli tourists and checking out a hospital parking lot,” as well as partaking in “previous missions with Hezbollah” in the Netherlands, France, and Turkey.
On Feb. 26, the Washington Post reported that it had obtained “legal documents summarizing [Yaacoub’s] statements to police during weeks of questioning last summer” that provide a fuller picture of his activities in Cyprus prior to his arrest. Additionally, current and former US officials told the Post that “Hezbollah is learning from its mistakes, employing the tactics of professional intelligence operatives to cover its tracks and expanding its threat.”
Yaacoub, who was recruited by Hezbollah during his trips to Lebanon, began to visit Cyprus in 2009, according to the Post. Some reports have suggested that Yaacoub first visited in 2008, as “Mr. Yaacoub was confused about whether it was in 2008, as he said in his written testimony, or in 2009″ that he first visited Cyprus, according to the New York Times.
Nonetheless, it is clear that while in Cyprus, Yaacoub claimed to be running a juice business, which he registered with Cypriot authorities. According to the Post, “Hezbollah was grooming him for a long-term mission.” However, he soon “attracted suspicion because of his apparent fascination with the habits of Jewish visitors.”
“I was just collecting information about the Jews….This is what my organization is doing, everywhere in the world.” Yaacoub told investigators. Yaacoub’s reconnaissance activity in Cyprus increased in 2011, when he was told by his superiors in Hezbollah “to monitor charter flights bringing Israelis to Cyprus.”
The documents obtained by the Post revealed that Yaacoub had “spent many hours staking out the airport [Larnaca International Airport], recording flight information and watching passengers board special buses to the island’s resorts.” Among other activities, he “drew maps of the areas around the resort hotels, noting security stations and the proximity of police and rescue units,” the Post reported.
A verdict in the case is due in mid-March, according to the Jerusalem Post. In October 2012, Yaacoub pled not guilty. Cyprus’ Justice Minister has previously said that “some patterns of [Yaacoub’s] behavior were the same as that of the terrorist in the Bulgarian terrorist attack.”
The targeting of Israeli and Jewish targets by Iran and Hezbollah appears to be on the rise. Only weeks ago, Bulgaria declared that Hezbollah was responsible for the terror attack in Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian national last July. On Feb. 20, Nigeria’s State Security Service announced the arrest of three members of an Iranian-backed terror cell that was reportedly planning to carry out attacks on US and Israeli interests as well as former Nigerian officials.
Immediately following the Burgas attack, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division said Iran has “sharply increased its operational tempo and its willingness to conduct terrorist attacks targeting Israeli interests and the International Jewish community worldwide.” Between May 2011 and July 2012, over 20 attacks tied to Iran and Hezbollah against Israelis and Jews abroad were thwarted. These thwarted attacks, not all of which were publicly reported, took place in Cyprus, Turkey, Kenya, India, Thailand, and Azerbaijan, and elsewhere.