NICOSIA (Reuters) - A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon’s Shi‘ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.
In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.
Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.
He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.
Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.
“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the Republic,” the three-bench court said during sentencing.
Yaccoub’s jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.
The United States, which, like Israel, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has said the guilty verdict on Yaccoub announced by the Cypriot court on March 21 highlighted the need for the European Union to crack down on the Lebanese group.
The EU, to which Cyprus belongs, has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, saying that doing so might destabilize Lebanon and add to regional tensions.
Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alistair Lyon