Daniel Benjamin, who recently resigned as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, said Hezbollah’s activity outside the Middle East has reached a level unmatched since the 1990s. Benjamin said the militant group is “not just doing one-off attacks but is right now involved in a campaign of terrorism,” in part to warn Western countries against allowing military intervention against Iran.
“Hezbollah already believes we’re in a conflict,” Benjamin told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “but they want to intimate to us how much more will be coming if the conflict sharpens.”
Scouting on Cyprus
Beginning in 2009, Yaakoub made numerous trips to Cyprus, a popular tourist destination and financial center in the eastern Mediterranean and a member of the European Union since 2004. Yaakoub told acquaintances that he was trying to establish a juice-importing business. But the dark-haired 24-year-old attracted suspicion because of his apparent fascination with the habits of Jewish visitors to the sun-drenched island.
For more than a week last summer, he crisscrossed the island, asking questions and staking out hotels and businesses catering to Jewish customers. He scoured the island for restaurants that served kosher meals.
“I was supposed to spot Israeli restaurants where Jews eat kosher,” he would explain later to investigators. “I was looking it up on the Internet and couldn’t find anything.”
When he was detained July 7, Yaakoub insisted he had only been looking for business contacts. But over a week-long interrogation, a different story emerged. His statements to police, contained in depositions that included his confession, notes, drawings and other artifacts, outlined his recruitment and training by Hezbollah for a series of missions. He said the ultimate objectives of his assignments were never revealed to him. He insisted he never knowingly supported a terrorist operation.
“I do not agree with terrorism,” he told police.
According to the account described in police depositions, Yaakoub was recruited by Hezbollah during business trips to Lebanon. His handlers appear to have viewed the young trader as potentially useful because he possessed a European passport and a job that justified foreign travel.
After undergoing training in Lebanon, he was dispatched on a series of low-level assignments as a courier. He delivered packages and messages to contacts in Turkey, France and the Netherlands. Yaakoub asserted that his key handler always wore a mask and insisted on strict operational security — no cellphones were allowed in meetings, and Yaakoub never knew what was in the packages he delivered.