Hezbollah man convicted of scoping terror targets in New York

Lebanese-born Ali Kourani, recruited and trained after family home destroyed in 2006 war with Israel, surveilled JFK airport, FBI building and other sites, court finds

NEW YORK — A New Yorker was convicted Thursday of providing material support to Hezbollah by seeking targets in New York City for terrorist attacks.

A jury returned its verdict against Ali Kourani in Manhattan federal court after a weeklong trial.

Kourani, 34, could face life in prison at a sentencing scheduled for September 27.

His lawyer, Alexei Schacht, said he’ll appeal the verdict on the grounds that statements his client made to the FBI were made involuntarily in response to false promises of confidentiality.

“Given the fact the judge allowed in the statements, we were not surprised at the verdict,” he said.

The Bronx man has been held without bail since his June 2017 arrest on charges he sought to support Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad organization.

An undated photo of Ali Kourani, a naturalized US citizen from Lebanon who allegedly plotted attacks on behalf of Hezbollah in New York City. (screen capture: YouTube)

US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Kourani surveilled terrorism targets in New York City, including Kennedy International Airport and law enforcement facilities including the building housing the FBI.

“Ali Kourani was recruited, trained, and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States. Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the US for future Hezbollah terrorist attacks,” Berman said in a release.

Authorities said the Lebanon-born Kourani received sophisticated military training overseas at least twice, including in 2000 at age 16. They said he was trained in the use of a rocket propelled grenade.

Travelers line up for a security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Wednesday, November 21, 2018, in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

Authorities said he immigrated to the US legally in 2003, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2009 and a master’s degree in business administration in 2013.

Prosecutors said Kourani was recruited by the terrorist organization after a residence belonging to his family was destroyed during the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Kourani was convicted of providing material support to Hezbollah, which has been designated by the US government as a foreign terrorist organization. He also was convicted of other terrorism, sanctions, and immigration offenses.

Another man who was taken into custody in Michigan on the same day Kourani was arrested in 2017, Samer El Debek, is still awaiting trial. He is also accused of belonging to Hezbollah.

AFP contributed to this report.

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