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Hizballah operative convicted of terror charges after surveilling targets in New York City

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On May 16, a jury in Manhattan found Ali Kourani guilty of committing various crimes on behalf of Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), which plans terrorist operations around the world. The Department of Justice announced the jury’s verdict the following day.

Among other offenses, Kourani surveilled various targets in New York City for possible IJO-orchestrated terrorist attacks. Kourani, who lived in the Bronx, scoped out JFK Airport, U.S. military and law enforcement facilities, including the Jacob Javits federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.

Ali Kourani. Source: NY1.

The IJO, which oversaw Kourani’s work, has an extensive terrorist history. Hizballah’s external operations arm first began targeting the US in Lebanon during the 1980s. It was led by Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s master terrorist, who was responsible for orchestrating some of the first jihadist suicide bombings in the modern era. Mughniyah was killed in 2008, but Hizballah obviously stayed in the terrorism business after his demise.

[For an overview of the case against Kourani, his alleged role within the IJO, and Hizballah’s anti-American terrorism, see FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: 2 US cases provide unique window into Iran’s global terror network.]

The DOJ describes the IJO as a “highly compartmentalized component of Hizballah” that is “responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities” outside of Lebanon’s borders. It is also known as External Security Organization and “910.” The IJO was responsible for a worldwide Iranian terror campaign in 2012, targeting a bus full of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, a bombing that left six people dead and wounded 32 others. Other IJO plots that same year were thwarted by authorities.

Kourani became a naturalized US citizen in 2009. By that time, he was already working for Hizballah, a detail that he hid from immigration officials.

Kourani first received Hizballah-sponsored weapons training in 2000, when he was just 16 years old.

In 2011, according to the DOJ, Kourani attended another IJO sponsored training camp “in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon,” where he was taught to use 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.”

At some point, the IJO assigned Kourani a “handler, or mentor, responsible for providing him with taskings, debriefings, and arranging training.” Kourani would communicate with this same individual “using coded email communications, including messages sent by the handler that informed Kourani of the need to return to Lebanon.” 

Kourani also “transmitted some of the products of his surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts back to IJO personnel in Lebanon using digital storage media.” 

“This case shows Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization is a threat to the American people and not just to those living abroad,” Assistant Director Michael McGarrity of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division said in a statement.  “The IJO enlisted Kourani to help plan an attack on high profile U.S. locations where many people could have been killed or injured.  Thanks to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force his plans were not carried out.”

The DOJ first announced the charges against Kourani, as well as another alleged Hizballah operative, in June 2017.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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