Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Hezbollah operative convicted in New York for plotting attacks in US

Born in Lebanon, Ali Kourani became a US citizen with 'chilling' mission

The JFK International Airport was one of the targets scouted by convicted Hezbollah agent Ali Kourani for possible attacks, US prosecutor said. Getty Images
The JFK International Airport was one of the targets scouted by convicted Hezbollah agent Ali Kourani for possible attacks, US prosecutor said. Getty Images

A Hezbollah operative who left Lebanon in 2003 and later became an American citizen has been convicted of planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States on targets including JFK Airport.

Ali Kourani, also known as Ali Mohamad Kourani, was found guilty by a jury in New York on charges that he had been tasked with scouting sites and procuring weapons for what prosecutors described as a “chilling mission”. He could face life imprisonment when sentenced in the autumn.

According to the indictment, Kourani was trained by Hezbollah in 2000, when he was 16 years old, and three years later entered the US legally.

But he returned to Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel and afterwards, probably around 2008, was recruited by the Islamic Jihad Organisation, Hezbollah's foreign operations wing.

US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that Kourani was deployed by the IJO to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States and to enlist others who would help him do so.

Also using the pseudonyms Jacob Lewis and Daniel, those he was asked to find included “individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defence Force whom the IJO could either recruit or target for violence”.

“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,” Mr Berman said after Thursday's conviction.

“Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets.”

After being recruited by IJO, Kourani returned to the US and attended university, gaining a bachelors degree in biomedical sciences and an MBA, in 2013.

In 2008 he had applied to become a naturalised US citizen, was later issued an American passport and the following year travelled to Guangzhou, China, for what he said was a business meeting.

Prosecutors said the real purpose of Kourani's trip was to meet members of an IJO cell in Guangzhou, where US authorities have previously said chemicals used in terrorist operations were manufactured.

But in 2011 he was back in Lebanon receiving more training.

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, the jury heard.

He then worked with his IJO handler in what would become the US plot, conducting 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,” the US department of justice said.

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

Now 34, he was convicted of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation and of conspiracy to do the same, offences that carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.

Kourani was also found guilty of receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organisation. and 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

He will be sentenced on September 27.

Updated: May 17, 2019 06:12 PM

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