Lawyer: Cyprus suspect says he's in Hezbollah
A man being tried on allegations he planned attacks on Israeli tourists in Cyprus has admitted being a member of the militant group Hezbollah and staking out locations that such visitors frequent, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub's admissions follow accusations that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah was behind a bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists. Authorities here have been reluctant to link the Cyprus case to the attack in Bulgaria, but both have fed concerns about militant activity in Europe.
Lawyer Antonis Georgiades noted that Yaacoub, who is Swedish and Lebanese, told a Cyprus court that he came to this country on business with no plan to harm anyone. But Yaacoub, 24, also admitted that an unidentified man in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, gave him the "mission" of recording flight arrivals and bus routes of Israeli tourists and checking out a hospital parking lot.
Georgiades said Yaacoub acted alone in Cyprus and that instructions where given to him "in complete secrecy" by a man whose face he couldn't see. The lawyer said that while his client's actions may raise suspicions, there is no hard proof that Yaacoub was planning an attack.
Cyprus police arrested Yaacoub last July, several days before the bombing that killed the five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver.
Yaacoub pleaded not guilty to eight charges including conspiracy and consent to commit a criminal offense and participation in a criminal organization. Yaacoub initially faced 17 terrorism and terrorism-related charges according to police, but prosecutors dropped any reference to terrorism in the new charges without explanation.
The European Union, of which Cyprus is a member, has not formally designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
According to notes explaining the charges, prosecutors say Yaacoub knowingly conspired with others to "abduct a person for the purpose of subjecting him to harm or attacking him to cause grievous bodily harm" and was prepared to carry out missions around the world on the orders of others against Israeli citizens.
Yaacoub is alleged to have carried out his surveillance and recording of movements between November 2011 and January 2012 and in the first week of July 2012.