LARNACA - A Cyprus criminal court on Tuesday sentenced a member of the militant group Hezbollah to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him in connection with the seizure of 9 tons of a chemical compound that can be converted into an explosive.
A state prosecutor said Lebanese-Canadian Hussein Bassam Abdallah admitted that Hezbollah aimed to mount terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Cyprus using the ammonium nitrate that he had been ordered to guard at the Larnaca home of another official of the Iranian-backed group.
The three-judge bench said it took into account the 26-year-old's limited role in the operation as only the guardian of the chemical compound, his swift admission, apology and remorse for his actions. They also pointed to the fact that he renounced any further association with Hezbollah as well as his cooperation with investigators that helped them get to the bottom of the case.
Authorities believe that the ammonium nitrate had been stockpiled in Cyprus since around 2011 and held in the basement of a home in a residential neighborhood of Larnaca.
Abdallah, who is married with an 18-month-old child, could have faced a maximum of 14 years in prison, a fine of 500,000 euro ($560,000), or both.
The European Union declared Hezbollah's military wing a terrorist organization in July 2013.
The charges against Abdallah included membership and support of a terrorist organization and possession of explosives. Authorities also found 9,400 euros ($10,530) in Abdallah's possession which he admitted was his payment for carrying out the mission.
Prosecutor Paulina Efthyvoulou said Abdallah, who was recruited into Hezbollah's military wing some five years ago and received training on the AK-47 assault rifle, had visited Cyprus around 10 times since 2012.
Cypriot authorities were tipped off sometime in May this year about the presence of the chemical compound at the Larnaca home and put it under surveillance. They arrested Abdallah and seized the ammonium nitrate during a daytime raid later the same month.
The prosecutor said the group had used the same chemical compound in previous terrorist attacks.
This is the second time that a Cypriot court has sent an admitted Hezbollah member to prison on charges of plotting against Israelis in the last three years. In 2013, a Swedish-Lebanese man who admitted he was a Hezbollah member was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis in Cyprus. No attacks were carried out.
Cyprus authorities have not speculated about the probable use or target, but the island is popular with Israeli tourists arriving by ferry and there is a synagogue in Larnaca.
Abdallah regularly travelled to Cyprus to check on the ammonium nitrate. His latest instructions before his arrest on May 27 were to find a warehouse to store it, and his handler gave him a forged British passport, state prosecutor Polina Eftyvoulou told Cyprus's criminal court.
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," Eftyvoulou was quoted as saying.
Reuters contributed to this report.