Analysis: 2 US cases provide unique window into Iran’s global terror network

On June 8, the Department of Justice (DOJ) made an announcement that deserves more attention. Two alleged Hizballah operatives had been arrested inside the United States after carrying out various missions on behalf of the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization. The plots took the men around the globe, from Thailand to Panama and even into the heart of New York City.

Both men are naturalized U.S. citizens. And they are both accused of performing surveillance on prospective targets for Hizballah’s highly secretive external operations wing, known as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO).

Ali Kourani, a 32-year-old who was living in the Bronx, New York (pictured on the right*), allegedly gathered “information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere,” while also “surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn.” Hizballah asked Kourani to identify “individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force” inside the U.S. and locate “weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations” as well. Kourani allegedly conducted all of these missions on behalf of his IJO “handler,” who was safely ensconced back home in Lebanon.

Samer el Debek, a 37-year-old resident of Dearborn, Michigan, is charged with “casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy” in Panama, identifying “areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal,” and determining for Hizballah “how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.” His “IJO handlers” also “asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy” in Panama, as well as “details” concerning its “security procedures.” (El Debek told authorities he did not provide Hizballah with the information requested on the American embassy.)

The charges brought against Kourani and El Debek have not been proven in a court of law. They remain allegations that have yet to be weighed by the criminal justice system. Still, the legal filings in both cases provide a unique window into how the FBI and the U.S. government are tracking Hizballah’s international terror network, including inside America.

Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization first gained infamy in the 1980s, when it orchestrated various attacks on Americans and Europeans in Lebanon and elsewhere. In some ways, the IJO could be credited with launching the modern jihadist war against the U.S., pioneering the use of near-simultaneous suicide bombings. Such tactics would later be adopted by Sunni jihadists, including al Qaeda, with devastating effects.

The IJO has avoided public scrutiny at times. The public’s attention has been mainly focused on the Islamic State of late. This is understandable as the so-called caliphate inspires, directs and guides terrorist operations around the globe.

But the U.S. government’s recent filings, including the sworn affidavits of two FBI agents responsible for tracking Hizballah, make it clear that the IJO continues to manage a sophisticated, clandestine web of operatives who are trained to carry out Iran’s bidding.

The IJO uses multiple aliases, including “External Security Organization” and “910.” The government describes it as a “component of Hizballah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of” the terror group “outside of Lebanon.” The IJO’s “operatives” are usually “assigned a Lebanon-based ‘handler,’ sometimes referred to as a mentor,” and this person is “responsible for providing taskings, debriefing operatives, and arranging training.”

The IJO often compartmentalizes its operations, conducting them “in stages” and “sending waves of one or more operatives with separate taskings such as surveillance, obtaining and storing necessary components and equipment, and attack execution.” Indeed, the government explains that the IJO’s handlers keep the procurement of ammonium nitrate-based products used for bomb-making separate from other terror-related tasks so as to avoid generating additional scrutiny.

Neither Kourani, nor El Debek is accused of conspiring to commit an imminent attack. But US officials think their work was part of longer-term planning.

“Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of [Hizballah] in planning for future attacks,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York Police Department (NYPD) explained in a statement.

The surveillance performed in New York City was done “in support of anticipated IJO terrorist attacks,” according to the complaint against Kourani.

Reading through the extensive legal paperwork, totaling dozens of pages, one is left to wonder who else Hizballah may have stationed here inside the U.S. as part of its patient plotting.

The sections that follow below are based on the U.S. government’s complaints and affidavits. In many cases, these same filings say the details cited were originally provided, in whole or in part, by Kourani and El Debek themselves during interviews with the FBI.

Kourani allegedly admitted he was an IJO “sleeper” operative

Ali Kourani (also known as “Jacob Lewis” and “Daniel”) was born near Bint Jbeil, Lebanon in 1984 and relocated to the U.S. as a young man in 2003. He went on to receive “a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009” and a MBA in 2013.

Kourani sat for “multiple voluntary interviews” with the FBI in 2016 and 2017, and much of the evidence cited in the complaint against him is sourced to his own admissions during these sessions. At one point, he apparently said he hoped to exchange information for “financial support and immigration benefits for certain” relatives, but the FBI says it didn’t agree to this quid pro quo proposal.

Kourani allegedly compared his family to the “Bin Ladens of Lebanon,” describing one brother as the “face of Hizballah” in one area of Lebanon. He was first trained at a 45-day Hizballah “boot camp” in the year 2000. He was just 16 years old at the time, but claimed that his “family’s connections to a high-ranking Hizballah official named Haider Kourani” allowed him to attend the camp. Kourani was allegedly “taught to fire AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as basic military tactics.”

His “family’s home was destroyed by an Israeli bombing” during the 2006 Lebanon War. Approximately two years later, according to Kourani, he was “recruited by” Hizballah’s Sheikh Hussein Kourani to serve in the IJO.

Kourani described the IJO as being responsible for “black ops” carried out by Hizballah and “the Iranians.” Kourani also explained that the IJO is “operated” by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who reports “directly to Ali Khamenei,” the Iranian Supreme Leader.

Kourani told the FBI that he was “recruited to join the IJO in light of his education and residence in the United States.” But there was another sinister motive for Hizballah’s interest in him. The IJO was developing a network of “sleepers” who “maintained ostensibly normal lies but could be activated and tasked with conducting IJO operations,” Kourani purportedly said.

Indeed, Kourani “identified himself” as one of these IJO “sleeper” operatives, “working undercover in the United States” and covertly “conducting IJO intelligence-gathering and surveillance missions” given to him by his handlers in Lebanon.

Kourani identified one IJO handler as “Fadi” (also known as “Hajj”) and explained the elaborate security protocols Hizballah took. In addition to be questioned about his own background, Kourani was trained on “conducting interrogations, resisting interrogations, and surveillance techniques.”

Fadi “typically wore a mask during their meetings,” explaining that the IJO’s “golden rule” is “the less you know the better it is.” Fadi “acted as” Kourani’s handler until about Sept. 2015, when Kourani claims he “was deactivated by the IJO.”

Fadi told Kourani to obtain a U.S. citizenship, a passport and related documents, thereby making it easier for him to travel around the world on behalf of Hizballah. The IJO’s man also instructed Kourani on how they could communicate securely, using code words and other basic tradecraft.

IJO surveillance in New York City, including at John F. Kennedy International Airport

The most striking allegations against Kourani involve his surveillance of potential targets in New York City on behalf of Hizballah.

Fadi “directed” Kourani to “surveil and collect information regarding military and intelligence targets in the New York City area,” the FBI found. Kourani then “conducted physical surveillance” on three locations in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn. The buildings he surveilled include: “a U.S. government facility, which includes FBI offices”; a “U.S. Army National Guard facility”; a “U.S. Secret Service facility”; and a “U.S. Army Armory facility.” Kourani transferred his video surveillance on “at least one” of these targets to “Fadi and other IJO personnel in Lebanon.”

According to the complaint, Fadi had Kourani surveil airports in the New York area. “In response,” Kourani “provided detailed information to Fadi regarding specific security protocols; baggage-screening and collection practices; and the locations of surveillance cameras, security personnel, law enforcement officers, and magnetometers at JFK and an international airport in another country.”

Fadi tasked Kourani with other missions as well. He told Kourani to “obtain surveillance equipment in the United States” – including “drones, night-vision goggles, and high-powered cameras” – “so that the underlying technology could be studied and replicated by the IJO.” He also had Kourani “cultivate contacts” who “could provide firearms for use in potential future IJO operations in the United States” (Fadi allegedly deemed these contacts unsuitable for arms purchases), while also collecting “intelligence regarding individuals…affiliated with the” Israeli Defense Forces.

El Debek’s alleged admissions during interviews with the FBI

As with Kourani, the FBI’s case against Samer el Debek is based in no small part on his interviews with the Bureau. El Debek was interviewed “in person a total of five times between” Sept. 8, 2016 and May 23, 2017, as well as “by phone on a number of occasions.” His testimony was supplemented with evidence culled from his social media, emails and travel documents.

According to the complaint in his case, El Debek allegedly admitted that: he was “first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or 2008” and eventually received a salary of $1,000 per month plus “medical expenses”; he “received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon,” including how to use assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and other weapons; he “was trained on at least four occasions between 2009 and 2013 in surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques”; he “attended Hizballah religious training,” during which “a sheikh taught religious rules and topics including martyrdom ideology”; he was trained on the “handling of explosives and the creation of explosive devices,” including landmines, improvised explosive devices and how to remotely detonate such bombs; and he was “taught how specifically to target people and buildings.”

An FBI Special Agent Bomb Technician discussed the “bomb-making techniques” Hizballah imparted to El Debek and found that he “had a high degree of technical sophistication in this area.”

Indirect ties to Iran’s worldwide terror campaign in 2012

Several of the allegations against Kourani and El Debek connect them – albeit indirectly – to an IJO network responsible for orchestrating a wave of terrorist plots on behalf of the Iranian regime in 2012.

That year witnessed a “marked resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and Tehran’s ally” Hizballah, the State Department said in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2012. Iran and Hizballah’s “terrorist activity…reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.”

Foggy Bottom went on to cite plots and attacks in Cyprus, Georgia, India, Kenya, and Thailand as evidence of Iran’s worldwide campaign of terror in 2012. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, State Department highlights Iran’s ‘marked resurgence’ of state-sponsored terrorism.]

Some of these same plots – all carried out under the direction of Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) – are referenced in the complaints filed against Kourani and El Debek.

On July 18, 2012, Hizballah bombed a tour bus carrying Israelis at the Burgas Airport in Bulgaria. Five Israelis and one Bulgarian were killed. The Bulgarian government publicly fingered Hizballah as the culprit.

The FBI discussed the Burgas attack with El Debek, who explained that the bomber, Mohamad Husseini, “was connected to his family.” Husseini was the nephew of El Debek’s aunt. El Debek also “identified a photograph of Husseini,” explaining that “he knew of Husseini’s membership in Hizballah’s ‘External Security’ unit” – meaning the IJO, El Debek’s own parent organization.

The complaint does not cite any evidence directly tying El Debek to the Burgas bombing. But the FBI assessed that El Debek’s training would allow him to build an explosive device similar to the one that killed several Israelis.

The “techniques and methods in which Hizballah trained” El Debek to build an improvised explosive device “are substantially similar to those used to construct the IED used in the” Burgas bombing, FBI Special Agent Daniel M. Ganci wrote in an affidavit. Ganci relied on his conversations with another FBI bomb expert in formulating his assessment.

The complaints cite the IJO’s activities in Thailand, pointing to the Jan. 2012 arrest of Hussein Atris, who was detained as “he tried to board a flight at Bangkok airport.” Atris “subsequently led law enforcement personnel to a commercial building near Bangkok that housed a cache of nearly 10,000 pounds of urea-based fertilizer and 10 gallons of ammonium nitrate,” which “can be used to construct explosives.”

Atris wasn’t the only Iranian-sponsored operative in Thailand at the time. In Feb. 2012, two Iranian men were arrested by Thai police and a third by Malaysian authorities after the group “accidentally set off explosives that were allegedly intended to target Israeli diplomats,” according to the State Department. The explosives “were similar to bombs targeting Israeli diplomats in Georgia and India” during that same timeframe. Still other Iranian agents “successfully fled” Thailand. All of the operatives traveled “through Malaysia” to Bangkok.

In 2009, years before the high-profile arrests, El Debek himself traveled to Bangkok, apparently slipping in and out of Thailand unnoticed. According to the complaint, it was El Debek’s “first mission abroad” on behalf Hizballah. El Debek allegedly told the FBI that he was supposed “to clean up the explosive precursors” left behind at a house in Bangkok by other Hizballah members who were forced to flee “because they were under surveillance.”

Like his Hizballah compatriots who followed him, El Debek traveled through Malaysia en route to Thailand. While in Malaysia, “he met his IJO handler,” who “provided him with a cover story” to use in Bangkok.

El Debek was to hire a sex worker “to draw out any surveillance on the house.” El Debek told the FBI that he did as his handler instructed him, hiring a “female escort” to probe for any suspicious activity around the home. While El Debek watched, she entered the home without any problems. Now confident that authorities weren’t watching the home, El Debek later returned “and found approximately 50 boxes containing materials sealed in plastic.” He told the FBI that “the majority, if not all” of the boxes contained ammonium nitrate. He removed as many as he could in “his rented vehicle” and dumped the rest. Curiously, however, he was instructed a “day or two later” to “return the explosive precursors to the house and pay rent to the landlord.” He complied before returning to Lebanon via Malaysia.

The complaint does not explicitly connect the “explosive precursors” El Debek handled in 2009 to Hizballah’s plots three years later. But the charges, assuming they are true, confirm that the Iranian proxy was laying the groundwork for operations in Thailand years in advance.

In May 2009, Kourani made his own suspicious trip, which also may be tied to the events that unfolded in 2012. Kourani traveled to Guangzhou, China, where the manufacturer of “ammonium nitrate-based First Aid ice packs” was located. The FBI found that these same types of ice packs, from the same manufacturer, were “seized in connection with” the thwarted IJO plot in Thailand in 2012, as well as a separate foiled operation in Cyprus.

In 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned a number of Hizballah “front companies” and “agents” used for procurement around the world. One of these, Stars International, Ltd., has a subsidiary in Guangzhou.

El Debek’s surveillance in Panama

Another one of El Debek’s alleged missions for Hizballah took him to Panama. He visited the tiny Central American nation twice, with his first trip coming in 2011. El Debek explained that “his operational taskings included learning to drive in Panama, determining the cost of opening a business, locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, and determining how to get to the Panama Canal.” He was “instructed to case and identify security procedures at the Canal and the Israeli Embassy,” but said “his purpose for locating the U.S. Embassy was simply to know its location.” According to the complaint, the IJO operative also “located hardware stores” and other places where “acetone and battery acid,” both “explosive precursors,” could be acquired.

El Debek’s second alleged mission to Panama came in 2012. This time it “was more focused on the Panama Canal,” he explained. Hizballah “asked him to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Canal, and provide information about Canal security and how close someone could get to a ship.” He “took a lot of photographs of the Canal, which he later provided to the IJO.”

His “IJO handlers” were keenly interested in the U.S. Embassy, including “details about its security procedures,” as well as “periods of heavy traffic into and out of the U.S. Embassy, and the locations of houses and apartments in close vicinity to” it. El Debek claimed he didn’t go into the embassy, nor did he take photographs of it, so he “did not have a significant understanding of” the Americans’ “security procedures.” He claimed that he merely informed his “IJO handlers” that “people waiting for a visa appointment entered the Embassy and then waited for their appointment inside.”

After returning from Panama to Lebanon, he “met with his IJO handler and the handler’s superior,” providing them “with maps, notes, pictures, and the camera he used in Panama.”

El Debek said that after performing these missions, however, Hizballah turned on him, accusing him of “spying for the United States.” He allegedly offered a “false confession after repeated interrogations,” telling Hizballah “that he worked for the FBI, CIA, and police.” He supposedly named his American handlers as “Jeff and Michael” (names he made up) and said he was “paid $500,000” for his services to the U.S. government.

It is not clear why Hizballah would think that El Debek had doubled-crossed them.

The cult of martyrdom has become a prominent feature of Sunni jihadism, but El Debek’s case includes important reminders that it is still a powerful concept within Iranian-sponsored Shiite jihadism as well. According to the complaint, he performed multiple searches on Facebook using terms such as “martyrs of the holy defense,” “martyrs of Islamic resistance,” “Hizballah martyrs,” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”

Background on Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO)

The world first heard of Hizballah’s “Islamic Jihad Organization” (IJO) in the early 1980s, when Iran’s terrorist proxy struck American and European targets in Lebanon. The IJO was poorly understood at the time. So when the group claimed responsibility for several operations, and threatened to execute more, there was confusion over which party was the real culprit. Some reporting still reflects the initial uncertainty to this day.

In reality, the IJO was one of Iran’s and Hizballah’s early fronts for waging jihad against the West. Western forces were deployed to Lebanon as peacekeepers in the wake of Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982. The Iranian regime and its surrogates went to work. The CIA found that hundreds of members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were deployed to Lebanon, where they built terror networks and began spreading Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical ideology. The IRGC was based in Baalbek and Iran coordinated the IRGC’s activities via its embassy in Damascus, often with the support of Assad regime. The IJO was a key part of these early Iranian plans.

The IJO claimed responsibility for the Apr. 18, 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. According to Langley, the bombing was the “deadliest attack in CIA history,” as some of the Americans killed were Agency personnel.

After the Embassy bombing, the CIA’s William F. Buckley volunteered to serve as Station Chief in Lebanon. In March 1984, the IJO kidnapped Buckley. He died in the terrorists’ custody in June 1985. The IJO claimed that it executed Buckley in Oct. 1985, months after US officials say he perished.

US officials also identified the IJO as the Iranian arm behind the Oct. 23, 1983 suicide bombs targeting peacekeepers in the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF). Twin vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices rocked the barracks for U.S. Marines and French peacekeepers, killing 241 Americans and 58 French service members. The fingerprints of Hizballah’s IJO and its terror master, Imad Mughniyah (pictured on the right), were all over the attacks.

A Sept. 27, 1984 analysis by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence found that the IJO “almost certainly carried out” the Apr. 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing, as well as the Oct. 1983 attacks on the Marines and French paratroopers. The CIA referred to “Islamic Jihad” (or the IJO) as Hizballah’s “terrorist component,” explaining that it operated with “Iranian assistance” and was “determined to drive the US and Israel out of Lebanon and to establish an Islamic state there.”

That same CIA analysis pointed to an “overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence” showing that Hizballah operated “with Iranian support under the cover name of Islamic Jihad.” Another now declassified CIA assessment concluded that the IJO was not “a distinct organization with identifiable leaders,” but instead “an umbrella name used by a number of Iranian-dominated Shia extremist groups” in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.

An observation in the CIA’s Sept. 1984 assessment proved to be a harbinger of things to come. “Radical leaders almost certainly viewed the withdrawal of the Marine contingent from Beirut last winter as proof of the effectiveness of terrorist tactics,” the Agency’s analysts wrote in reference to the aftermath of the IJO’s Oct. 1983 bombing.

Iranian-backed Shiite jihadists were not the only ones who held this view. At the time, a certain young extremist named Osama bin Laden was watching as events unfolded in Lebanon. Bin Laden believed that the American withdrawal signaled weakness. While stationed in Sudan in the early 1990s, bin Laden and al Qaeda even turned to Hizballah, Mughniyah and Iran for assistance in learning how to conduct simultaneous suicide attacks. “Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983,” the 9/11 Commission later found. Al Qaeda cadres were trained by Hizballah in Lebanon, as well as in Iran.

Hizballah’s terrorist innovation would become al Qaeda’s modus operandi. Bin Laden’s men directly modeled the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania after Hizballah’s 1983 attacks. As a U.S. court later found, Iran and Hizballah provided al Qaeda with the “technical expertise” necessary to carry out the 1998 Embassy bombings. Bin Laden believed he could drive the U.S. out of the Middle East if his men replicated Mughniyah’s early operations. However, the al Qaeda founder was proven wrong on that score.

Hizballah’s IJO was the spearhead for a series of other Iranian-backed, anti-Western operations in Lebanon and elsewhere. Bombings, kidnappings, assassinations – all were tied to the IJO in the 1980s. A car bombing outside of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983 and the assassination of a Saudi government official in Spain were both claimed by the IJO, according to the CIA.
The 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 was another instance of IJO-orchestrated terror.

Callers claiming to be affiliated with the group phoned in additional threats around the globe, promising more terror if all Western and Israeli forces didn’t evacuate Lebanon.

In 1987, on the fourth anniversary of the Marine barracks and French paratroopers bombings, a statement attributed to the IJO was sent to the press. “America failed to do anything. It just collected the limbs of its dead and fled from the Muslims’ fists in Lebanon,” the statement read, according to an account in UPI at the time. The group threatened more attacks against American interests. “And this, with God’s backing, will occur in other Muslim countries soon at the hands of the students of our blessed martyrs.” Photos of two men held hostage by the IJO — American journalist Terry Anderson and French journalist Jean-Paul Kauffman – were attached to the message, along with images the buildings bombed in Oct. 1983. Luckily, both Anderson and Kauffman were subsequently released.

This early campaign of Iranian terror has had lasting effects throughout the region. Some of its participants have continued to push the regime’s agenda decades after the fact.

One such figure is commonly known as Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis (also identified as Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahimi), the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is currently fighting the Islamic State inside Iraq. Muhandis, a close confidant of IRGC-Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, was designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist in 2009. The Treasury Department noted that he had “participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of the Emir of Kuwait in the early 1980s.” Muhandis “was subsequently convicted in absentia by the Kuwaiti government for his role in the bombing and attempted assassination.”

Like so many plots during this timeframe, some sources identified Imad Mughniyah as the chief architect of the 1983 embassy bombings in Kuwait — the same attacks Muhandis was later convicted of participating in. One of Mughniyah’s family members, Mustafa Youssef Badreddin, was among the 17 people arrested in Kuwait and convicted of carrying out the attacks on the U.S. and French embassies, among other targets. In the years that followed, Iran’s terrorist proxies repeatedly demanded that members of this group (dubbed the “Dawa 17”) be released from custody in exchange for Western hostages.

Hizballah’s IJO wasn’t finished in the 1980s. And its operational reach extended into Central and South America. For instance, the IJO claimed responsibility for the Mar. 17, 1992 suicide truck bombing at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A little over two years later, on July 18, 1994, another Hizballah suicide terrorist drove a bomb-laden vehicle into a Jewish community center (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, or AMIA) in Buenos Aires. INTERPOL subsequently issued Red Notices for Mughiyah and several others for their role in the devastating explosions.

Hizballah’s IJO allegedly wanted revenge for the death of Mughniyah

In Feb. 2008, Mughniyah was assassinated in a highly professional operation in Damascus, Syria. The hit was likely carried out by the Israelis, possibly with the assistance of their American allies. The recently released court filings indicate that Hizballah has been seeking revenge, including inside the U.S., since then. Those same documents identify Mughniyah as the IJO’s “leader” until his death.

Fadi, the IJO handler, allegedly “directed” Ali Kourani “to identify and collect intelligence regarding individuals in the United States affiliated with the” Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). According to the complaint, Kourani “believed that the IJO gave this tasking to facilitate, among other things, assassinations of IDF personnel in retaliation for” Mughniyah’s death. Kourani “used a social media account to identify members or associates [of the IDF] in the New York City area, and he described his search methodology to Fadi.”

The cases against Kourani and El Debek suggest that the U.S. government will be forced to contend with Hizballah’s international network for the foreseeable future. Just this past week, in fact, the State Department amended its terrorist designation of Hizballah to include additional aliases for the group.

Hizballah’s IJO arguably began the current jihadists’ war against the West in the early 1980s. And it is still plotting more than three decades later.

*The photo of Ali Kourani was first used during a segment broadcast by NY1. A similar image was also used by NBC New York.

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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14 Comments

  • Ken North says:

    An incisive, comprehensive, and long-overdue assessment of Iran’s global operational activities. Al Qaeda has been patiently and extensively rebuilding in recent years in the shadow of ISIS, but the national law enforcement community is largely oblivious to the sophisticated and insidious activities of Iran’s talented proxies in Hezbollah and the IJO.

    When Iran chooses to strike through these surrogates, it will not be the one-off amateurish forays of the typical lone wolf who chooses to attack with knives while leaving a dozen unused firebombs back in the van.

    We should take it as a given that there are more Nada Nadim Proutys out there in sensitive
    government positions and no shortage of IJO sleepers in major American cities as well.

  • Nima says:

    Thanks for making for a great laugh. As early as at this passage I burst into laughter and had to stop:
    “Hizballah asked Kourani to identify “individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force” inside the U.S. and locate “weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations” as well.”

    So, while the IDF sits (and fires) next door to Hizballah at the Israeli-Lebanese border, the latter spies on “affiliated individuals” in the States?
    Can a charge be more ridiculous and vague?

    Yes, this one: <>
    So, out of so many weapons trade arenas in the world Hizballah decided that the US is the right place to buy arms against the IDF.

    Sorry folks, this is pure manure of the worst kind.

    • Maxtrue says:

      Really, you made it that far?

      I didn’t know that Trolls For Hizb’Allah had to look at any evidence as part of their indoctrination. Facts never stopped your false narrative before.

      Your English is a giveaway, but your humor the red flag.”

    • B. J. Lee says:

      Obama will supply their weapons! In the mean time, kill them all!

    • Nazarene says:

      Nima=Muslim Brotherhood…..we are watching you.

      • Nima says:

        first I am a “Hezbollah troll”, now MB? You folks don´t even know that these two are arch enemies?
        In the mean time celebrate your president Trump for arming Saudi Arabia, the country that provided 15 of 19 9/11 terrorists and the sick Wahhabi ideology that “inspired” those guys.
        That ideology keeps hitting you through Al Qaeda and ISIS, those very same terror organizations that Hezbollah and Iran are fighting since years.

  • jack says:

    hang both of them!

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    Mr. Joscelyn, thank you. I love the detail-itis. Most valuable.

  • Douglas Morrow says:

    Excellent reporting and analysis Thomas. For years the IRGC has threatened that would retaliate asymmetrically if we attacked Iran. This case clearly illustrates their success at planting operatives in the CONUS.

    Interesting that the subject was accused and falsely admitted being doubled and yet IJO let him leave Lebanon alive. If true, were they trying to triple him back on us? Odd!

  • mightywhig says:

    Most of this article is very old news. Are we sure these characters were acting on behalf of Hizballah? When was the last time Hizballah hit a US target anywhere? Seems like the group has been focused on Lebanese internal politics and Syria.

    • Nima says:

      It was 1983 at a time when the US was assisting the aggressors of the IDF in their lie-based attack on Lebanon in an offensive war.
      The US was not impartial then as the US navy was shelling Hezbollah in the midst of their war of self-defense against the IDF.
      I regret the loss of life of those marines who were dispatched to a country far away from home, an operation that had nothing to do with self-defense.
      In any case, this was 34 years ago.
      For decades there has been no violence between the US and Hezbollah. Since 2006 Hezbollah, contrary to Israel, has respected a peace deal between the two, while Israel has attacked Hezbollah unprovoked in a time when the latter was fighting the admirers and supporters of the 9/11 perpetrators.

  • Bill Baar says:

    Nima has a point lost in the snark. Why is the US providing a unique window? Why arrest and risk trial on guys who seemed like they’d flip?

  • JagerOster says:

    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Foreign operatives of varied persuasions migrate in and out of vulnerable regions such as in rural tri-vector areas where local and regional bureaus have very little if any presence.

    • Nima says:

      Ask yourself simple questions:
      – With whom are the terrorists of 9/11, London, Paris, Madrid, Bali, Luxor and hundreds of suicide and car bombings since 2001 affiliated ethnically and religiously?
      a) Shia Iran
      b) Sunni Arabia

      – Has their been a single proven Hezbollah terror attack on US soil?
      – Has Lebanese Hezbollah conducted a single proven attack against Americans in the last 20 (or even 30) years?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis