Hezbollah members carry mock rockets next to a poster of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah [FIle].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US Department of Justice confirmed Thursday that two men were arrested for planning attacks against Israeli and US targets in Panama and New York. The arrests took place on June 1.
Ali Kourani was arrested in the Bronx, while Samer El Debek was arrested in Michigan. Both men were arrested for "providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah; and receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah." Both were also arrested for a related weapons offense, which involved explosives, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns.
Kourani and El Debek are both alleged to have been recruited to train and support the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), a part of Hezbollah.
Kourani was born in Lebanon and legally entered the US in 2003, where he received a degree in biomedical engineering and an MBA. Prior to his arrival in the US, Kourani participated in a Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training program. According to the Justice Department report, Kourani's duties as a IJO operative included "identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Forces."
El Debek is a naturalized US citizen, who received Hezbollah training from 2008 to 2014. In emails, he wrote of his support for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The FBI allege that El Debek received "extensive" training as a bomb-maker. El Debek searched inflammatory terms on Facebook including "martyrs of Islamic resistance” and “Hizballah martyrs” more than 250 times.
Acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon H. Kim said, "At the direction of his Hezbollah handlers, El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the US 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.”
Hezbollah is listed as terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.