By George Psyllides
A Lebanese-Canadian man charged with stockpiling explosives in Cyprus was jailed for six years in Larnaca on Monday on terrorism related charges.
Hussein Bassam Abdallah, 26, was arrested in late May after police discovered a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, a potential explosive, in the basement of a house in Larnaca.
Abdallah pleaded guilty to charges of possessing explosives, conspiracy to commit a crime, aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation, participation in a terrorist group, and money laundering.
The defendant was sentenced to six years for participating in a crime, five years respectively on two charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation, and six years for money laundering. The sentences will run concurrently.
The three-member court did not impose a penalty on three charges: participation in a criminal organisation, participation in a terrorist organisation, and illegal possession of explosives, since their elements overlapped those of the charges in which penalties were imposed.
Foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides had told Reuters earlier this month that the government believed it had thwarted a plot by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militia hostile to Israel.
Ammonium nitrate, if mixed with other substances, can become a very powerful explosive. Authorities discovered 8.2 tonnes of the substance stored in icepacks.
The court heard that the defendant arrived in Cyprus on May 21, a few days after authorities had received information that a large quantity of ammonium nitrate had been stored in a house bought by a member of Hezbollah. The chemical was meant to be used in terrorist attacks against foreign interests in Cyprus, the court heard.
The house was put under surveillance and it was raided by police six days later. They arrested the defendant outside and found two photocopies of a forged British passport in a bag.
In a statement to police on June 15, Abdallah, who admitted being a member of the armed wing of Hezbollah, said he had been instructed to move the chemicals to new storage space. He said he visited various warehouses in Larnaca to find the most suitable one.
His mission, the court heard, was to travel to Cyprus – between 2012 and the day of his arrest – and check the containers. He travelled to the island around 10 times, staying for 10 days at a time. Each time he got paid €3,500.
Abdallah, who is married with an 18-month-old child, said he was chosen by the organisation for the specific mission due to his dual nationality and his good knowledge of English.
Handing down the sentences, Presiding Judge Nicos Sandis said the court took into account his immediate admission and apology, the fact that he showed remorse, and co-operation with the authorities.
Sandis said the court also considered the role his confession played in resolving the case, as well as his quitting any activity relating to Hezbollah, “the fact that he joined the organisation carried away by his young age, his immaturity and frivolity, and the effects of his conviction on himself and his family.”
The court said it did not overlook the fact that the defendant’s role was limited. His defence said his role could “not be described as leading or as executive, in the sense that not only had he never participated in a terrorist act, but neither had he been trained to do so.”
Fertiliser-based bombs remain the explosive of choice for many militant groups across the world and have been used in some of the most destructive attacks in recent years.
They were used in the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 and a year later in attacks on the HSBC bank headquarters and the British Consulate in Istanbul in which 32 people died.
“One kilo of this mixed with fuel can produce the equivalent of 0.82 kilos of TNT,” state prosecutor Polina Eftyvoulou was quoted as saying.