In first, European court convicts Hezbollah agent accused of terorrism

LIMASSOL— On the same day President Obama called the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah a “terrorist” organisation in front of hundreds of applauding Israeli students, a European court has, for the first time, convicted a young man of plotting to target Israeli citizens abroad on Hezbollah’s behalf.
Riot police lead Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese citizen, centre top, to the court in the southern port city of Limassol Cyprus, March 7, 2013. The trial of a self....
Riot police lead Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24-year-old Swedish-Lebanese citizen, centre top, to the court in the southern port city of Limassol Cyprus, March 7, 2013. The trial of a self....

LIMASSOL— On the same day President Obama called the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah a “terrorist” organisation in front of hundreds of applauding Israeli students, a European court has, for the first time, convicted a young man of plotting to target Israeli citizens abroad on Hezbollah’s behalf.

U.S. officials said they hope today’s conviction will help push the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist group, restricting the group’s ability to recruit and raise funds within Europe. Hezbollah is already on the U.S. and U.K.’s list of terror organizations.

In the southern Cypriot port city of Limassol, Hossam Taleb Yaccoub, a Lebanese-Swedish 24-year-old, was convicted being a member of a criminal organization, Hezbollah, and of plotting a terrorist attack similar to the Bulgaria bus bombing that claimed the lives of six Israelis and a Bulgarian driver last July. Bulgarian authorities said they believe Hezbollah was responsible for that attack, and top Israeli officials said it was part of a “consistent pattern” of plots targeting Israelis around the globe.

In Yaccoub’s case, prosecutors accused the 24-year-old of tracking the movements of Israeli tourists in Cyprus, noting the arrival times of charter flights and registration numbers of buses carrying Israelis. Yaccoub has admitted his allegiance to Hezbollah, but denied being part of any plot to attack Israelis.

In a brief interview, Yaccoub declined to discuss his case, and referred questions to his lawyer. Yaccoub spoke softly and calmly and greeted the reporter warmly and in perfect English. He would say only that he maintained his innocence.

“It’s too soon to talk,” he said.

Yaccoub’s lawyer, Antonis Georgiades, said that he would appeal the conviction, calling some of the evidence insubstantial and “far-fetched.” Georgiades said the bus passengers Yaccoub is accused of tracking were actually Russian, not Israeli.

“In the law, suspicion does not add up to being guilty,” he said.

The court found that Hezbollah acted in complete secrecy and “has multiple members and proceeds with various activities, including military training of its members,” according to Judge Tasia Psara-Miltiadou, who read an 80-page document in court. “Therefore, the court rules that Hezbollah acts as a criminal organization.”

U.S. officials said they have been looking forward to this verdict, eager to convince European countries -- after years of pressure -- to label Hezbollah a terrorist group. France and Germany in particular have resisted American requests to make that declaration, worried it would destabilize Lebanon’s fragile government and contribute to Middle Eastern instability.

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