A woman walks along the sea promenade in the Mediterranean port of Limassol on January 11, 2012
A woman walks along the sea promenade in the Mediterranean port of Limassol on January 11, 2012. Self-confessed Hezbollah militant Hossam Taleb Yaacoub told a court in Cyprus Thursday that he had collected information on Israeli tourists visiting the east Mediterranean island but denied plotting to attack them. Yaacoub was arrested in the port of Limassol in July last year. © Andreas Lazarou - AFP/File
A woman walks along the sea promenade in the Mediterranean port of Limassol on January 11, 2012
AFP
Last updated: February 22, 2013

Hezbollah militant denies Israeli attack plot in Cyprus

A self-confessed Hezbollah militant told a court in Cyprus Thursday that he had collected information on Israeli tourists visiting the east Mediterranean island but denied plotting to attack them.

Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Lebanese and Swedish citizen arrested in the port of Limassol in July last year, faces eight charges including conspiracy to commit a crime and participating in a criminal organisation.

"These accusations are baseless. I conspired with no one to commit any crime," he said during cross-examination at Limassol criminal court on Thursday, local media reported.

"I was given instruction to collect information. That's what I did."

Yaacoub said he was asked to log information on Israeli flight arrivals to Cyprus and jot down bus number plates carrying tourists from the Jewish state.

He said he did not know what the information was for and was arrested last July before he could communicate the information to a handler, whom he did not know, in Lebanon.

Cyprus is becoming ever more popular for Israeli tourists, with arrivals in 2012 increasing 23.5 percent to 39,420.

In testimony read on Wednesday Yaacoub denied planning any attack, but did admit to being in Hezbollah for the past four years while also insisting that he worked solely in the group's political branch.

The defendant said he received orders from a masked Hezbollah operative called Ayman and was told to stake out hotels on Cyprus, including in Limassol and Ayia Napa.

Cyprus police have refused to comment publicly, calling the case a "sensitive political issue."

Shortly after Yaacoub's arrest, five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver were killed in a bus bombing at an airport in Bulgaria, the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004, which Israel blamed on Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

At Wednesday's hearing, Yaacoub was unable to answer questions about a red notebook containing the registration numbers of tourist buses he had with him at the time of his arrest.

He said he had received weapons and acted as a courier for Hezbollah in Europe, delivering packages whose contents he said he was unaware of, to the French city of Lyon, to Amsterdam and to Antalya in southwest Turkey.

"I never wanted to hurt anyone, I have no affiliation with terrorism and I am not a member of a terrorist or criminal organisation," Yaacoub said.

The trial was adjourned until March 7.

Cyprus saw attacks against Israeli interests in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but since then it has been viewed as a relative regional safe haven, and neutral ground for unofficial Middle East peace contacts.

Ties between Israel and Cyprus have strengthened in recent years, with the two countries discussing the joint development of offshore gas discoveries.

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