Trial Offers Rare Look at Work of Hezbollah in Europe
In a little-noticed trial in a small courtroom in Cyprus on Wednesday, a 24-year-old man provided a rare look inside a covert global war between Israel and Iran, admitting that he is an operative of the militant group Hezbollah, for which he acted as a courier in Europe and staked out locations in this port city that Israelis were known to frequent.
Breaking with the group’s ironclad discipline and practiced secrecy, the operative, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, described being handled by a masked man he knew only as Ayman. He told of doing simple tasks at first: picking up a couple of bags in Lyon, France, taking a cellphone, two SIM cards and a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper from Amsterdam to Lebanon.
When he was arrested last July, he had a small red notebook with the license plate numbers of two buses ferrying Israelis to vacation spots in the vicinity.
He claimed that none of this was related to planning an attack, as prosecutors have charged. One of the plates, LAA-505, reminded him of a Lamborghini sports car, he said, while the other, KWK-663, reminded him of a Kawasaki motorcycle.
Yet, less than two weeks after he was taken into custody, a bomb blew up alongside a bus at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver — an attack similar to the one he seemed to be planning, experts say, and one that the Bulgarian authorities later tied to Hezbollah.
Mr. Yaacoub’s testimony offered unaccustomed insights from an active Hezbollah member into the militant group’s secret operations. But it carried potentially greater significance for the European Union, which has thus far resisted following Washington’s lead in declaring the group a terrorist organization. Experts say that a conviction here would substantially raise the pressure on the bloc for such a designation.