Wednesday, February 20, 2013

20-Feb-13: In Cyprus terrorism prosecution, the accused admits he's part of Hezbollah

We reported the arrest in July 2012 here
Benjamin Weinthal, writing in the Jerusalem Post, posted an exclusive report a short time ago about  an admission made by a suspected terrorist in a Cyprus criminal trial. 

The background is in an earlier post of ours, "14-Jul-12: Terror attack in Cyprus foiled; the targets seem to have been Israelis". Here's an extract:
Today (Saturday) in Cyprus, the local police revealed that they arrested a Lebanese holding a Swedish passport some days ago. [But let's note that in Lebanon, they are saying tonight that the suspect's second passport was Saudi, not Swedish.] This Swedish/Saudi Lebanese is a 24 year old man. The police in Cyprus say he had been tracking Israeli tourists on the island, and was evidently planning attack on buses according to a local news source quoted by the Jerusalem Post. No charges have been formally laid yet in this unfolding story, but in the words of the Cypriot police: "We can confirm the arrest of a 24-year-old foreign national for specific, serious offenses, and who is in custody by order of the court." On the other hand, "It is not clear what, or whether there was a target in Cyprus. That is under investigation," a senior government official told Reuters. AFP is more forthright, quoting a police source who said he could not deny or confirm the reports because it was a "sensitive political issue"... It did however say, basing itself on a Cypriot newspaper, Phileleftheros, that the terrorists were aiming at either buses or aircraft and that "notes with details of Israeli aircraft were found" in the possession of the arrested man. 
This evening's Jerusalem Post report says: 
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24-year old Lebanese-Swedish dual citizen, admitted on Wednesday in a courtroom that he is a member of Hezbollah, according to a statement he gave under oath. The Cypriot authorities accuse Yaacoub of plotting an attack against Israeli tourists on the island in July. Yaacoub faces eight charges in the criminal court in the city of Limassol. He is charged with membership in a criminal organization and conspiracy in "carrying out missions in any part of the world, including the Cyprus Republic, against Israeli citizens," among other charges... [more]
The New York Times has also just picked up on the breaking event: "In Cyprus Trial, Man Says He Scouted Israeli Targets in Europe for Hezbollah", and the creative approach being taken by his defence:
He was arrested in July with the license plates of buses ferrying Israelis written in a small red notebook. He said that he wrote them down because one of the license numbers, LAA-505, reminded him of a Lamborghini sports car, while the other, KWK-663, reminded him of a Kawasaki motorcycle... [NYT]
It's encouraging to know this criminal prosecution is moving forward well. But Cyprus has what we think is some unfortunate history when it comes to Palestinian Arab terrorists. Nearly 25 years ago, it was the scene of another major terror attack on an Israeli target (we we wrote this last summer, here). Several innocent people were killed:
That was when a car bomb attack was mounted against the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nicosia, in May 1988 [report here]. The driver of a Mitsubishi sedan, loaded with 300 pounds of dynamite, tried to park outside the four-story Israeli embassy building but was told by guards he had to move on. Asked to identify himself, he instead drove off rapidly and crashed into another car some 200 meters away,  and the car exploded seconds later, killing the driver (named as Kaddour Gaonajan, 24) and two innocent Cypriots; seventeen others were injured. The vehicle's owner was Omar Ahmad Hawillo, also described then as a Lebanese. He escaped from the vehicle just before it exploded and was soon arrested. Convicted later that year, he confessed to being a member of the Palestinian Arab Abu Nidal terrorist group [source] that had carried out the September 1986 terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed twenty-two. He was sentenced by a Cypriot court to fifteen years in prison, but served only eight years after a series of presidential pardons [see this 1996 Cypriot news report].
Some would say Israelis need to pause for a moment before criticizing the presidential pardon of terrorists (here's why we say that). We certainly think such pardons are a colossal mistake and have said so over and again. We are hoping that this time round, assuming he is convicted, the punishment meted out by the Cypriot justice system to the Hezbollah man gets delivered in full. Dealing rationally, publicly, firmly and with courage is its own reward when it's terrorists with whom you're dealing.

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