Cyprus jails Hezbollah man over 'Israel plot'
NICOSIA - A Cyprus court sentenced a self-confessed member of Lebanon's Hezbollah group on Thursday to four years in jail after he was convicted of involvement in a plot to attack Israeli interests on the island.
The official Cyprus News Agency said the criminal court in the south coast city of Limassol sentenced Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese and Swedish citizen, to four years minus time already served in prison since last July.
He was found guilty on March 22 on five counts -- including participating in a criminal organisation, taking part in a criminal act and money laundering.
Yaacoub, 24, told the court last month that he had collected information on Israeli tourists visiting the island, but denied plotting to attack them.
He said he had been asked to log information on Israeli flight arrivals and note down the number plates of buses carrying tourists from the Jewish state.
Yaacoub said he was unaware what the information was for and was arrested in July last year before he could communicate the information to a handler, whom he did not know, in Lebanon.
On Thursday he made no outward show of emotion after the sentence was passed, and before being led out of the courtroom under armed guard.
"There is no doubt that these are serious offences because by committing them, at the very least it potentially jeopardised the safety of Israeli citizens and targets on the territory of the Cyprus Republic," the court ruled.
"Even if the targets were not carried out, it still harms the security of citizens and the legal system, whose guardian is the court," it added.
Before passing sentence the court did take into consideration the fact that Yaacoub had cooperated with police and that he had been recruited by the militant Shiite group at the age of 19.
In mitigation, his defence lawyer said Yaacoub did not carry out any violent act and has a clean criminal record. He also did not transport or carry guns or explosives.
Yaacoub, who had faced a sentence of up to 14 years, was cleared of three charges pertaining to conspiracy to commit a crime because they were covered by the other offences.
His trial heard that Hezbollah had ordered him to carry out six missions on Cyprus since December 2011, and that he was paid a total of $4,800 by the powerful group.
Yaacoub contacted Hezbollah through various Internet cafes in different towns.
In his testimony, Yaacoub denied planning any attack, but did admit to being in Hezbollah for the past four years while also insisting he worked solely in its political branch.
He said he received orders from a masked Hezbollah operative called Ayman and was told to stake out hotels and hospitals on Cyprus, including in Limassol and the tourist resort of Ayia Napa.
He said his main reason for coming to the island was business-related -- to buy fruit juice.
Cyprus is becoming ever more popular for Israeli tourists, with arrivals in 2012 increasing 23.5 percent to 39,420.
Shortly after Yaacoub's arrest, five Israeli tourists and their local driver were killed in a bus bombing at an airport in Bulgaria, the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004.
Israel blamed the attack on Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.