A Muslim man in New York City and another in Michigan have been arrested and charged with plotting attacks on U.S. soil and in Panama. The two suspects are accused of being “'sleeper' agents" for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization.
A Department of Justice statement reads:
“Today, we announce serious terrorism charges against two men who allegedly trained with and supported the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of the foreign terrorist organization Hizballah. Recruited as Hizballah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Kourani allegedly received military-style training, including in the use of weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns for use in support of the group’s terrorist mission. At the direction of his Hizballah handlers, El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. 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 Hizballah operatives have been thwarted, and they will now face justice in a Manhattan federal court.”
The men didn’t have a specific plan, investigators say, but were actively seeking targets.
Kourani, 32, was born in Lebanon and has been trained in weapons since the age of 16. He arrived in the U.S. in 2003 and earned citizenship six years later. According to Legal Insurrection, Kourani lied on his immigration application and denied having any ties to terror organizations. While living in the Bronx, Kourani earned a degree in biomedical engineering and an M.A. in business administration. In his free time he tried to buy weapons to send to the Hezbollah organization.
El Debek, 37, lives in Livonia, Michigan, and is believed to have joined the terror organization in 2008. He is accused of traveling to Lebanon on multiple occasions for training and bomb making. Using his U.S. passport, El Debek went to Thailand in 2009 reportedly “to help clean up explosive residue left behind in a safehouse used by members of a Hezbollah-backed terror cell.” In 2011, he traveled to Panama and photographed the U.S. and Israeli embassies. A year later, he was back checking out the Panama Canal.
The DOJ added, “The charges announced [on Thursday] reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of Hizballah.”
Maybe this is just more of that “part and parcel” stuff of living in a big place like New York City.