On Thursday, two members of the terrorist organization Hezbollah were arrested in the United States; one in the Bronx and one in Michigan. One was gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The other was identifying areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal.
Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, was charged with providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah; receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah; a related weapons offense that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and machine guns; violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA); and naturalization fraud to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan, aka “Samer Eldebek,” was charged with providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah; receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah; use of weapons in connection with a crime of violence that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and machine guns; and violating and conspiring to violate IEEPA.
Joon H. Kim , acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said:
Today, we announce serious terrorism charges against two men who allegedly trained with and supported the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of the foreign terrorist organization Hezbollah. Recruited as Hezbollah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Kourani allegedly received military-style training, including in the use of weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns for use in support of the group’s terrorist mission. At the direction of his Hezbollah handlers, El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal. Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City. Thanks to the outstanding work of the FBI and NYPD, the allegedly destructive designs of these two Hezbollah operatives have been thwarted, and they will now face justice in a Manhattan federal court.
The DOJ noted:
Hezbollah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components. … Since Hezbollah’s formation, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel. In 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organization, pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and it remains so designated today. … In 2010, State Department officials described Hezbollah as the most technically capable terrorist group in the world, and a continued security threat to the U.S.
The Islamic Jihad Organization (“IJO”), which is also known as the External Security Organization and “910,” is a component of Hezbollah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hezbollah outside of Lebanon.
The DOJ pointed out:
In 2011, for example, Kourani attended an IJO military training camp located in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon, where he was provided with military-tactics and weapons training, including training in the use of a rocket propelled grenade launcher, an AK-47 assault rifle, an MP5 submachine gun, a PKS machine gun (a Russian-made belt-fed weapon), and a Glock pistol. Based on other taskings from IJO personnel, which were conveyed during periodic in-person meetings when Kourani returned to Lebanon, Kourani conducted operations that included searching for weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations, identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force, gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere, and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Kourani transmitted some of the products of his surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts back to IJO personnel in Lebanon using digital storage media.
El Debek received military training from Hezbollah in Lebanon on several occasions. … Based on information el Debek provided to the FBI, FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hezbollah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing.
In early 2012, el Debek again traveled to Panama for Hezbollah, passing through New York and New Jersey, and was asked to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal. Upon his return from Panama, el Debek’s IJO handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy there and details about its security procedures.