(CNSNews.com) – Two incidents almost 3,000 miles apart this week have shed fresh light on allegations that a Iranian-backed network is plotting against Western targets, primarily Israeli but also American.
In a court in the Cypriot seaside resort of Limassol, a dual Lebanese-Swedish national suspected of espionage and terrorism confessed to being a member of Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese Shi’ite group, and of carrying out tasks including identifying locations in Cyprus where Israelis gather, and arranging the rental of a warehouse.
In his notebook, police found registration numbers of tourist buses.
The 24-year-old, who travels on a Swedish passport, also said he had earlier delivered packages on Hezbollah’s behalf in Turkey, France and the Netherlands. He claimed ignorance of the contents.
The suspect was arrested in a Limassol hotel last July, just days before a bus bombing in Bulgaria killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian. The Bulgarian government early this month said investigations had concluded that Hezbollah members were behind the attack.
Cyprus and Bulgaria are both members of the European Union, which the United States has been urging to designate the Lebanese group as a terrorist organization in a bid to strangle its funding sources in Europe.
The union is divided over the issue, but the revelation that the suspect in Cyprus undertook tasks for Hezbollah in at least three E.U. countries, while traveling on the passport of an E.U. member state, will add to concerns.
Sweden is also a member of the Schengen agreement, which allows travel between 26 countries (although Cyprus is not yet one of them), without border controls.
The Hezbollah operative appeared in the Limassol court on Thursday, and was remanded in custody until a next appearance, scheduled for March 7.
Although he admitted being a member of Hezbollah for four years and of undergoing military training, he denied involvement in a bombing plot. He faces eight counts, including conspiracy, intention to commit a crime, and participation in a criminal organization.
USAID, Jewish Center among targets
Over the past 12 months, a string of terror plots allegedly involving Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)–Qods Force were exposed – in Thailand, India, Kenya, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus, and Bulgaria.
(Some were disrupted, but in India the wife of an Israeli defense attaché was seriously injured in a blast, and in Thailand a series of explosions occurred, including one that blew off the legs of one of the alleged plotters, an Iranian.)
Now another plot can be added to that list, and this one included American facilities among the targets.
In Nigeria on Wednesday, the state security service announced it had cracked a terrorist cell whose members, directed by unnamed handlers in Iran, had scoped Israeli and American targets in Lagos, the largest city in Africa’s most populous country.
“Part of the deadly group’s brief included identifying and gathering intelligence on public places and prominent places frequented by Americans and Israelis to facilitate their attack by Iranian terrorists,” Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper quoted security service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar as saying.
They included facilities of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Peace Corps, a Jewish Cultural Center, an Israeli container shipping line and an Israeli information security and wireless networking company.
There were also alleged plans to assassinate two controversial Nigerian Muslim figures, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and a man appointed by Babangida during his 1985-1993 tenure as “sultan of Sokoto,” an important ceremonial Islamic leadership role in Nigeria.
Ogar said three of alleged cell members, including a Nigerian Shi’ite cleric, were under arrest, while a fourth remains at large.
Parading the three suspects before the media, Ogar said the cleric, Abdullahi Berende, had been recruited while studying at an Iranian university in 2006. He returned a second time in 2011 and underwent training in firearms and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), she said.
Then on a visit to Dubai in 2012, Berende was tasked to begin the surveillance operation, with his Iranian handlers providing him with around $30,000, some of which was used to relocate and set up a cover business in Lagos.
Ogar said the three would be put on trial soon.
Meanwhile an Iranian IRGC member named Azim Aghajani is facing trial in Nigeria, along with a Nigerian national, over weapons, including rockets and grenades, discovered hidden in a shipment at Lagos port in 2010.
USAID activities in Nigeria include training healthcare workers in medical injection safety, and education projects including a local version of “Sesame Street.”