LIMASSOL, Cyprus: A man on trial has admitted to being a member of the militant Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, acting as a courier for the group inside the European Union and staking out locations that Israelis would frequent - in particular a parking lot behind a Limassol hospital and the Golden Arches hotel.
In a little-watched proceeding in a small courtroom, the defendant, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, 24, described how he would be picked up in a van to meet his handler, whom he knew only as Ayman.
''I never saw the face of Ayman because he was always wearing a mask,'' Yaacoub said.
In written testimony read out in Greek by his interpreter, the man said that he had not taken part in a plot to target Israeli tourists visiting Cyprus, as prosecutors charge.
''Even if they asked me to participate in a terrorist action I would refuse. I could never do that,'' Yaacoub said. ''I'm only trained to defend Lebanon.''
But he was arrested with a small red notebook in which were written the licence plates of buses ferrying Israelis.
The Cypriot police arrested Yaacoub on July 7. Less than two weeks later, a busload of Israelis was blown up in Burgas on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, killing five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver. Bulgarian officials said evidence pointed to Hezbollah as being behind the attack.
The stakes in the trial are high both for Hezbollah and the European Union, which has thus far resisted following Washington's lead and declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.
A verdict is expected sometime next month. But a preliminary ruling by the three-judge panel last week found the prosecutor had provided enough evidence to proceed on all eight counts, including four charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, two of participating in a criminal organisation, one of participating in the preparation of a crime and a charge for covering it up.
Yaacoub, who has Swedish and Lebanese passports, said he had been a member of Hezbollah since 2007. He also owns a trading company in Lebanon.
It was unclear from his testimony exactly how he got involved with the man he called Ayman. He said he had been on ''previous missions with Hezbollah'' in Antalya, on Turkey's south-west coast; Lyon, France; and Amsterdam.
In France he said he ''picked up some bags'', while in Amsterdam he ''picked up a cellphone, two SIM cards and something that was rolled in a newspaper but I don't know what it was''. He had delivered the items to Lebanon.
In Cyprus, Ayman asked him to observe the car park and the hotel. He was also supposed to acquire two SIM cards and find internet cafes in Limassol and the Cypriot capital, Nicosia.
The New York Times