A three-judge panel on Thursday convicted Hossam Yaakoub, 24, a Lebanese-born Swedish citizen, on five criminal counts including participation in a criminal organization, planning to commit a crime and money laundering. Last month, Yaakoub told the court that he had worked as a courier for Hezbollah in Europe but that he had not intended to take part in any attacks.
The conviction, which comes after Bulgaria’s announcement last month that it believed Hezbollah was involved in an attack last year on a bus of Israeli tourists, bolsters the criminal dossier against the group.
Many European countries, particularly France, Spain and Italy, have resisted following the U.S. example of placing Hezbollah on a list of terrorist organizations, cautious that doing so would weaken European influence in Lebanon and jeopardize that nation’s fragile stability. The Iran-backed group, which is also a mainstream political and social movement in Lebanon, is the primary voice of the Shiite community there. But several E.U. nations have said courtroom evidence of criminal Hezbollah activity on European soil would lead them to press for a changed designation in the halls of Brussels, the E.U. capital.
“It’s necessary to do something because it’s obvious that the funding for Hezbollah is coming from within Europe,” said Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy speaker of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union.
“We cannot ignore” the developments in Bulgaria and Cyprus, he said. “These are member states of the European Union and this is something we have to discuss.”
‘A European message’
Yaakoub’s conviction on five of eight charges carries a penalty of three to 14 years in prison plus a fine of up to $645,000, a spokeswoman for the Cypriot Ministry of Justice said. Sentencing will be later this month. In their 80-page decision, the judges declared Hezbollah a criminal organization. Yaakoub was acquitted on three charges, which were subsumed under the five main convictions.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the conviction “underscores the need for our European allies — and other governments around the world — to crack down on this deadly group.”
Yaakoub’s trial and previous statements to investigators provided an unusually detailed window into Hezbollah’s efforts to recruit and train European operatives for what U.S. analysts describe as future terrorist operations. Yaakoub told investigators that he spent three years setting up a juice-importing company in Cyprus as a cover and carefully monitored the comings and goings of Jewish tourists at the behest of Hezbollah. But he denied being involved in terrorist activities.