Washington, Feb. 20 – A defendant on trial in Cyprus for plotting terror attacks against Israeli tourists has admitted to being a member of Hezbollah, a confession that promises to deepen pressure on the European Union to heed U.S. calls and formally designate the Iran-backed group a terrorist organization.
The admission by Hossam Taleb Yaacoub was given in a written statement and read out by a Greek translator for the court. Cypriot authorities are trying the 24-year-old Lebanese-Swedish dual citizen on eight criminal counts, including conspiracy to commit a felony, participation in a criminal organization, participation in the preparation of a crime – plus attempting to cover up the crimes. Among the activities to which Yaacoub reportedly confessed were acting as a Hezbollah courier inside the E.U. and staking out locations frequented by Israelis.
Cypriot police arrested Yaacoub on July 7, 2012, and a subsequent investigation discovered that he had been recording information on buses used by Israeli tourists. A terrorist attack on a busload of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort city of Burgas – which killed six civilians and which Bulgarian authorities have linked to Hezbollah – happened less than two weeks later.
Both the attack in Bulgaria and the thwarted attempt in Cyprus came during a year when Iran and Hezbollah conducted at least 10 terror plots worldwide.
Yaacoub’s statement will bolster calls for the E.U. to blacklist Hezbollah as a terror organization. France has shown particular reluctance to designate the group, a stance that analysts have linked to fears by Paris that peacekeepers it has placed in southern Lebanon will be targeted for retaliation. Hints that E.U. officials may put aside France’s objections, or that France may modify them, have been at best uncertain.
One potential avenue reportedly under consideration would have the E.U. designate Hezbollah’s military wing but not its political wing. The distinction has been described as nonsensical by counter-terror analysts and by Hezbollah leaders, but it might offer reluctant E.U. countries a minimal way to acknowledge that Hezbollah, having planned and executed terror operations on E.U. soil that have killed E.U. citizens, is a terrorist organization.