Hezbollah member found guilty in Cyprus
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24-year-old Lebanese-Swedish dual citizen who was arrested on July 7, 2012, was convicted on five out of eight counts in a Cypriot court today. Yaacoub, who was found guilty of membership in a criminal organization, will be sentenced on March 28.
Tasia Psara-Miltiadou, one of the three judges on the case, said that Hezbollah constitutes a criminal organization as it is "an organization that operates under complete secrecy." He continued to say that the group "has multiple members and proceeds with various activities including military training of its members," according to the New York Times.
On Feb. 20, Yaacoub admitted in court to being a member of Hezbollah. 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. Yaacoub also told investigators that he was responsible for "collecting information about the Jews...[t]his is what my organization is doing, everywhere in the world."
According to the New York Times, the court in Cyprus rejected Yaacoub's "assertion that he had no idea why his handlers asked him to monitor the arrival times of flights from Israel and to track locations of Israeli tourists in Cyprus."
Cyprus' Justice Minister had previously said that "some patterns of [Yaacoub's] behavior were the same as that of the terrorist" in the Burgas terror attack, which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian national 11 days after Yaacoub's arrest. On Feb. 5, Bulgaria declared that Hezbollah was responsible for the terror attack in Burgas.
Today's conviction will likely increase pressure on the European Union to finally designate Hezbollah as a terror organization. However, strong resistance remains among a number of EU states, in particular France. On March 19, Admiral James Stavridis, head of the US European Command told lawmakers that "Iran's Qods Force continues to operate in Europe, and the rising influence and actions of Lebanese Hezbollah in our theater also operates against US and partner interests." On March 21, while in Israel, President Obama declared that "[e]very country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is - a terrorist organization."
The targeting of Israeli and Jewish targets by Iran and Hezbollah appears to be on the rise. 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. On March 6, the Counterterrorism Bureau at Israel's National Security Council warned that Iran and Hezbollah are still looking to exact revenge for the killing of Imad Mughniyah and Iranian nuclear scientists and are likely to do so by targeting Israelis abroad via suicide attacks or kidnappings.