A federal jury in Manhattan handed down guilty verdicts against Ali Kourani, a.k.a. “Ali Mohamad Kourani,” a.k.a. “Jacob Lewis,” a.k.a. “Daniel,” on all eight counts in the Indictment, which charged him with terrorism, immigration offenses and other counts for his role as an operative for Hezbollah’s external attack-planning component.
Kourani is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 27, 2019, by the Honorable Alvin K. Hellerstein, who presided over the eight-day trial. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director Michael McGarrity of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement Friday, according to press statements from the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office. .
“While living in the United States, Kourani served as an operative of Hezbollah [sometimes spelled Hizballah] in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.
“The evidence at trial showed that Kourani searched for suppliers who could provide weapons for such attacks, identified people who could be recruited or targeted for violence, and gathered information about and conducted surveillance of potential targets within our country. Such covert activities conducted on U.S. soil are a clear threat to our national security and I applaud the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and prosecution,” he added.
“Ali Kourani was recruited, trained and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization [IJO] to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hezbollah terrorist attacks. Some of the targets Kourani surveilled included JFK Airport and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets,” Berman noted.
In 1997, the U.S. State Department 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 United States.
Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah has increased its power in munitions and number of operatives with tens of thousands of weapons stored in civilian villages throughout southern Lebanon, a direct violation of UN Resolution 1701, according to an Israeli Defense Force intelligence report.
According to the IDF Spokesperson, the Hezbollah terrorist organization is spread out between as many as 1,000 facilities in southern Lebanon, located in 270 civilian villages. The organization continues to acquire munitions and strengthen, funded by Syria which is also smuggling weapons to it. This includes weapons which can reach populations in the center of Israel in cities such as Tel Aviv.
According to IDF intelligence, since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah has built more than 500 bunkers in the southern Lebanon region, each one holding various weapons. In addition, the organization has built about 300 underground facilities and 100 storage units for munitions including rockets, missiles and other weapons.
The terrorist group has made certain these terror centers filled with explosives and munitions are located near hospitals, private homes and schools.
“Apparently this is Hezbollah’s way of taking advantage of the civilian population of Lebanon. And the sad thing is the news media and United Nations know this situation exists but they don’t allow the truth to stop them from condemning Israel when it must ‘take out” one of these facilities and there’s collateral damage,” said former Marine intelligence officer and police executive Mike Snopes.
According to the IDF Northern Command, Hezbollah militants have doubled in number since the end of the last war.
Today, Hezbollah is estimated to have an arsenal of more than 40,000 rockets. This being the case, if war breaks out, Hezbollah will be able to launch between 500 and 600 rockets at Israel every day. One of the organization’s main civilian centers for storing munitions is the village of Al Khiyam in southern Lebanon, where hundreds of rockets and mortar shells with varying ranges are stored. More than 100 Hezbollah militants operate in the village, including special forces ready for combat with IDF soldiers.
Hezbollah is thus trying to distort the balance of power in Lebanon and return to full, routine militant activity in southeast Lebanon, similar to its activity levels just prior to the war in 2006. Hezbollah militant activities are based in southern Lebanon, funded and maintained by Syria and Iran. All of these are in direct violation to the UN Security Council’s 1701 decision.
The Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), which is also known as the External Security Organization and “910,” is a highly compartmentalized component of Hezbollah responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hezbollah outside of Lebanon.
Kourani, who was born in Lebanon, attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 when he was approximately 16 years old. After lawfully entering the United States in 2003, Kourani obtained a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009, and a Master of Business Administration in 2013.
Kourani and certain of his relatives were in Lebanon during the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, when a residence belonging to his family was destroyed. At some point by 2008, IJO recruited Kourani to its ranks. In August 2008, Kourani applied for naturalization in the United States in which he falsely claimed, among other things, that he was not affiliated with a terrorist organization.
In April 2009, Kourani became a naturalized citizen and was issued a United States passport. Despite claiming in his passport application that he had no travel plans, Kourani traveled to Guangzhou, China – the location of Guangzhou Company-1 – on May 3, 2009. He later claimed to the FBI that the purpose of the trip was to meet with medical device manufacturers and other businessmen.
IJO assigned Kourani an IJO handler, or mentor, responsible for providing him with tasks, debriefings, and arranging training. Kourani sometimes communicated with his handler using coded email communications, including messages sent by the handler that informed Kourani of the need to return to Lebanon. In order to establish contact with his handler when Kourani returned to Lebanon, Kourani called a telephone number associated with a pager (the IJO Pager) and provided a code that he understood was specific to him.
After contacting the IJO Pager, the handler would contact Kourani to set up an in-person meeting by calling a phone belonging to one of Kourani’s relatives. The IJO also provided Kourani with additional training in intelligence tradecraft, weapons, and tactics. In 2011, for example, Kourani attended a weapons training camp in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon, where he used 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 IJO personnel conveyed during periodic in-person meetings when Kourani returned to Lebanon, Kourani conducted operations, which he understood to be aimed at preparing for potential future Hezbollah attacks. These covert activities included searching for weapons suppliers in the United States who could provide firearms to support IJO operations; identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force whom the IJO could either recruit or target for violence; gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the United States and elsewhere, including JFK International Airport in New York; and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. Kourani transmitted some of the products of his surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts back to IJO personnel in Lebanon using digital storage media.
Kourani, 34, of the Bronx, New York, was convicted of:
- Providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of 10 years in prison or a fine.
- Conspiracy to receive military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
- Conspiracy to possess, carry, and use firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to crimes of violence, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
- Making and receiving a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hezbollah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Conspiracy to make and receive a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Naturalization fraud in connection with an act of international terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the defendant’s sentence will be determined by Judge Hellerstein.