DOJ: Two U.S. Citizens Arrested for Ties to Hezbollah

Hezbollah supporters wave flags during a ''Victory over Israel'' / Getty Images
June 8, 2017

Two naturalized U.S. citizens have been arrested on charges related to activities on behalf of Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon.

Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, N.Y. and Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Mich. were arrested on June 1, according to a Justice Department press release sent out Thursday.

Both men were "recruited as Hizballah operatives" and "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," according to Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Kourani was born in Lebanon and lawfully came to the United States in 2003. He eventually received both a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering and a masters of business administration.

The criminal complaint against Kourani alleges that in 2008 he joined the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of Hezbollah responsible for its terrorist and intelligence activities outside of Lebanon, after he attended a Hezbollah-sponsored weapons-training program in 2000 at the age of 16.

Kourani became a naturalized citizen in April 2009, after claiming on his application for naturalization that he was not affiliated with any terrorist organization, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Kourani engaged in extensive surveillance, according to the complaint against him. The complaint alleges that the surveillance included identifying people associated with the Israel Defense Forces, gathering information about security at U.S. airports, and surveilling U.S. law enforcement and military sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

El Debek is also a naturalized American citizen, and the complaint against him alleges that he was recruited to Hezbollah in late 2007 or early 2008. The complaint claims that he began receiving a salary from Hezbollah shortly afterward, and payments continued through 2015.

El Debek is believed to have conducted missions for Hezbollah in Panama and Thailand. In 2011, he traveled to Panama, where he is thought to have assessed security at the Panama Canal and Israeli Embassy and located places to buy explosive precursors.

El Debek wrote a post on Facebook before his trip stating, "Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people."

Both men face a number of charges, which include providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization; receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization; possessing, carrying, and using firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to crimes of violence; and making and receiving a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hezbollah.

The two men face charges whose maximum sentences range from 10 years to life.

"The charges announced today reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of Hizballah," said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York office.

"Our announcement today also reveals, however, that the dozens of agencies working together with our FBI JTTFs nationwide are just as determined to disrupt the plans of those working to harm our communities," Sweeney added.

The State Department has called Hezbollah "the most technically capable terrorist group in the world" and a continued security threat to the U.S.