Keep in mind that back in February, the Bulgarian government implicated the terrorist group Hezbollah in its report on the 2012 bus bombing of Jewish women and children on holiday, that had been the subject of much speculation over the past six months. The German and French governments both put heavy pressure on the Bulgarians to "use nuanced language" in the report and not name Hezbaollah.
Do you think the EU will designate Hezb'allah a terrorist organization now? What's it going to take, Europe?
The Bulgarian government, it has been stated by leading sources, has been informed through ‘back channels’ that there will be serious repercussions from Hezbollah if it is to publically and overtly name the group. This information comes despite strong pressure from the US government to make clear that the bombing was indeed the work of the Lebanese terrorist outfit.
"Hezbollah Courier Guilty of Role in Cyprus Terror Plot" The NY Times, March 21, 2013BERLIN — In a decision that could have significant repercussions for Hezbollah’s operations in Europe, a court in Cyprus on Thursday found a man guilty of participating in a plot to attack Israeli tourists on vacation there, part of a conspiracy similar to a deadly bombing last July in Bulgaria.
The court found the man, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, guilty on five of the eight charges against him, including participation in a criminal organization and in the preparation of a criminal act. The three other counts were conspiracy charges, which the ruling said were already covered under the other counts. Mr. Yaacoub will be sentenced at a separate hearing. Mr. Yaacoub was initially charged with several terrorism-related counts as well.
“It has been proven that Hezbollah is an organization that operates under complete secrecy,” the head of the three-judge panel that ruled on the case, Tasia Psara-Miltiadou, said in court Thursday. “There is no doubt that this group has multiple members and proceeds with various activities, including military training of its members. Therefore, the court rules that Hezbollah acts as a criminal organization.”
Mr. Yaacoub admitted in court last month that he was a member of Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, and that he was trained in the use of weapons and sent around Europe on missions as a courier and scout for the organization. The court rejected his assertion that he had no idea why his handlers had asked him to monitor the arrival times of flights from Israel and to track locations of Israeli tourists in Cyprus.
With his Swedish passport, Mr. Yaacoub was an ideal operative for the group, able to move within the European Union without attracting attention. He described operating in a shadowy world of code names and secret passwords, a secretive handler who wore a mask, and trips in vans with the curtains drawn so he did not know where he was going for his weapons training.
“It’s a rare opening, a rare lifting of the veil on how they operate,” Magnus Norell, a former terrorism analyst for the Swedish Secret Service who testified in the case, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. He called the plot “a textbook example of how you prepare an attack like this, pretty much a blueprint for preparing a terror attack.”
Mr. Yaacoub was initially charged with terrorism as well, but those charges were dropped, in part because Hezbollah is not formally listed as a terrorist organization. As such, experts said a conviction on the other criminal charges would be easier to win.
Hezbollah has also been blamed for the attack in Bulgaria, and Mr. Yaacoub’s conviction is likely to give further impetus to efforts to have the group designated a terrorist organization by the European Union. Experts say that in the legalistic, bureaucratic world of Brussels, a court conviction holds significantly more weight than a declaration by a government or an intelligence report.
Israel and the United States have been pressing hard for European allies to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The fact that Mr. Yaacoub is a European citizen and that he acknowledged performing clandestine work in France and the Netherlands as well as Cyprus only raises the pressure.
But that decision is foremost a political one, and it requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 European Union states. France in particular has resisted designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, with officials saying it is necessary to keep lines of communication open with the group, which is also a major force in politics and social services in Lebanon.
“We shouldn’t need more to designate them,” said Mr. Norell, who is also a senior policy adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy and an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s long overdue.”
Mr. Yaacoub was arrested in July 2012 in the port city of Limassol. During interrogation by the police, he first insisted that he was a trader traveling in Cyprus for business. After days of questioning he said that that was a cover story and that he was conducting surveillance for Hezbollah.
His lawyer argued that he had changed his story because he was frightened and intimidated by the police and that details in his sworn statements had been fabricated. The court ruled that his statements to the police were accurate.
The court found that the prosecution’s witnesses, including the managers of hotels where Israelis were staying and the drivers of buses Mr. Yaacoub watched, “have proven reliable and had no interest in lying before the court,” Judge Psara-Miltiadou said.
The judges also rejected the defense argument that Russian tourists who had visited Israel were also on the buses that Mr. Yaacoub observed. “The intention was clear,” Judge Psara-Miltiadou said. “There is no innocent interpretation of these actions and Mr. Yaacoub should know that his actions are connected to criminal offenses. All these activities prove criminal intentions on his part and on Hezbollah’s part.”
Mr. Yaacoub was also found guilty on two counts of legalizing income from illegal activities. According to his statement to the police, Mr. Yaacoub was arrested carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of cash in a variety of currencies, including Swedish kronor, euros, American dollars and both British and Lebanese pounds.