Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—A court in Cyprus heard testimony from a member of Hezbollah this week, who admitted to carrying out surveillance of different businesses and airlines linked to Israel on the island on behalf of the organization.
The accused, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, who holds joint Swedish-Lebanese citizenship, was arrested by Cypriot authorities last July. He admitted in court to being a courier for Hezbollah since 2007, with the codename ‘Wael.’ He also admitted to carrying out surveillance on areas on the island where Israeli tourists are known to congregate and recording the arrival times of flights from Israel.
When arrested, he was found to be in possession of a notebook which contained the license plate numbers of buses used to carry Israeli tourists.
Speaking through an interpreter, he told the court that his Hezbollah handler, who he knew only as ‘Ayman’ had also asked him to gather information on warehouse rentals and locate kosher restaurants.
Cyprus is a popular holiday destination for many Israelis. 40,000 Israeli tourists are reported to have visited the island last year alone.
Yaacoub admitted receiving training in the use of different weapons, including assault rifles, handguns, and anti-tank rockets during his time with Hezbollah, in addition to carrying out courier missions for the organization in France, the Netherlands, and Turkey. He also said that he had purchased cell phone SIM cards for the group on a previous visit to Cyprus in 2011.
The state prosecutor, Athos Kannaourides, accused Yaacoub of assisting in the preparation of terrorist attacks in Cyprus, saying “You bought the cards at separate kiosks so as not to cause suspicion, so you could have contact with Hezbollah to prepare a strike against Israelis in Cyprus.”
Yaacoub denied any knowledge of what the materials and information he gathered would be used for.
He also denied that he would take part in any terrorist attack, even if his superiors asked him to. He told the court: “Even if they asked me to participate in a terrorist action, I would refuse” adding “I could never do that. I’m only trained to defend Lebanon.” During his testimony, he also accused the police officers who interrogated him of altering his statement to say that he was trained in the use of plastic explosives.
The case is likely to be watched closely in government and security circles throughout Europe, given the recent bombing of a tour bus in Bulgaria that killed a local driver and several Israeli tourists. The government of Israel alleged that Hezbollah was involved in the attack, and is now pushing for the European Union, of which Cyprus is a member, to officially declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization.