Two naturalized American citizens have been charged with identifying and surveilling Israeli and American targets on behalf of Hezbollah.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of NY, Ali Koureni and Samer El Debek were arrested on June 1, 2017 on charges related to their alleged activities on behalf of Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Koureni was arrested in the Bronx for 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.
El Debek was arrested in Livonia, Michigan, outside of Detroit, for 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.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim 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 Koureni 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. Koureni allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.”
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors said Koureni attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon as a teenager in 2000 before lawfully coming to the United States in 2003. Koureni also identified Israeli army personnel in the United States and surveilled U.S. airports, military bases and police stations, it said. The two men documented security protocols at Kennedy International Airport in NY in preparation for potential attacks as well as IDF military attaches in NY.
El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was recruited by Hezbollah in 2007 or 2008, and received military and bomb-making training from the group between 2008 and 2014. He received training in firearms, explosives and surveillance during several trips to Lebanon between 2008 and 2014, the complaint states. El Debek also was charged with possessing extensive bomb-making training manuals from Hezbollah.
While working for Hezbollah, El Debek conducted missions in Thailand and Panama. According to the government, shortly before traveling to Panama in 2011, el Debek updated his status on Facebook with a post that read, in part, “Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people”. Then he traveled back to observe the Panama Canal in 2012. A search of El Debek’s computer turned up nearly 300 searches for sites like “Hezbollah martyrs” and “martyrs of Islamic resistance”.
Hezbollah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components. Hezbollah was founded in the 1980s with support from Iran after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and its mission includes establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon. Since Hezbollah’s formation, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including United States citizens and military personnel. In 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organization
Since its founding, the group has expanded to operate as a worldwide terrorist network. Hezbollah receives financial and political assistance, as well as weapons and training, from Iran. The U.S. estimates that Iran was giving Hezbollah approximately $60–$100 million per year in financial assistance (some analysts put that number closer to $200 million per year) but that assistance declined as other funding was secured, primarily from its heavy involvement in the South American drug trade.