Two men were arrested earlier this month for planning attacks against Israeli and American targets, including New York City’s JFK International Airport, on behalf of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, The New York Times reported Thursday.
The Justice Department announced the arrests of Ali Kourani, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Lebanon, and Samer El Debek of Dearborn, Michigan, for terrorist activities on behalf of Islamic Jihad Organization, which is affiliated with Hezbollah.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, both men are accused of “providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah,” as well as “receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah.”
Both stand accused of being recruited by Hezbollah and receiving “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.”
El Debek is accused of traveling to Panama on behalf of Hezbollah and scouting out the U.S. and Israeli embassies there, as well as assessing the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and of ships traveling through the waterway. Kourani is accused of seeking potential targets “including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.”
The statement explained that 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.”
A 2012 Hezbollah terror attack that targeted a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, killing six and injuring 32, was carried out by IJO. Authorities around the world have broken up other IJO terror attempts, the statement noted, including via “the arrest of an IJO operative surveilling Israeli targets in Cyprus in 2012, the seizure of bomb-making precursor chemicals in Thailand in 2012, including chemicals manufactured by a medical devices company based in Guangzhou, China (‘Guangzhou Company-1′), and a similar seizure of chemicals manufactured by Guangzhou Company-1 in Cyprus in May 2015 in connection with the arrest of another IJO operative.”
According to the Times, Kourani gave a number of interviews to the FBI this year and last. Over the course of these interviews, he said that because of family connections to the terror group, he had been allowed to attend a Hezbollah training camp when he was 16.
Kourani told the FBI that he was recruited in 2008 by Hezbollah and had a handler named Fadi. Fadi told Kourani to obtain U.S. citizenship, which he did in 2009. Kourani said that he had scouted a government site that had both FBI offices and an Army National Guard center in Manhattan. He also surveilled a Secret Service office in Brooklyn.
Kourani told the FBI that he had sent Fadi extensive information about the security procedures at JFK airport. He was instructed to develop sources from whom he could acquire weapons necessary for future operations against the U.S.
In 2007, an attempted Iran-led terror attack targeting the fuel tanks at JFK airport was thwarted and four men, including a baggage handler, were arrested.
In October of last year, three men were arrested for laundering a half-million dollars of Colombian drug money for Hezbollah in Miami banks.
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