Hezbollah Member Gets 40 Years For Scouting Possible Sites For Terrorist Attacks In New York


A naturalized U.S. citizen who was a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison Tuesday for gathering intelligence on potential sites for terrorist attacks in New York City.

Ali Kourani, a 35-year-old native of Lebanon, was the first member of the Islamic Jihad Organization, an arm of Hezbollah, to be convicted and sentenced in the United States, prosecutors said at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Kourani was already under investigation when he sought out the FBI in 2017 and offered to work as an informant in support of the bureau’s counterterrorism efforts, but prosecutors said he misled investigators.

A jury convicted Kourani on several terrorism counts in May after an eight-day trial. The court was told he was part of the IJO’s efforts to scout possible vulnerabilities at various sites, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, a military armory in Harlem and the federal building in Lower Manhattan, which houses a day-care center in addition to 7,000 federal employees and 30 agencies.

Kourani also tried to procure weapons and went to China to find chemicals that could be used to make explosives, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove argued for what amounts to a life sentence – saying the first sentencing of a Hezbollah member in U.S. courts should make a statement.

“Your voice will be heard today in Lebanon by the leaders of Hezbollah,” he told Judge Alvin Hellerstein. “Your voice will be heard in Iran, [which] is directing IJO operatives.”

At Kourani’s nearly three-hour sentencing, Hellerstein rejected a defense argument that Kourani had committed no acts of violence and no information he gathered was used in a terrorist attack.

“It’s hard to think of a more serious offense than to engage in terrorism against the United States,” Hellerstein said.

The IJO has been linked to international acts of terrorism, including the 2012 suicide bombing attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria that killed six and injured 32.

Kourani joined the IJO when he was 16 and moved to the United States legally in 2003. He was still a member of the terrorist group when he applied for citizenship in August 2008, prosecutors said. He earned a biomedical engineering degree in 2009, as well as a master’s degree in business administration in 2013.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement that Kourani “was recruited, trained, and deployed by [Hezbollah’s] Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism around New York City.”

In court, Kourani at times looked disaffected and bored as he slouched in his seat, wearing navy blue jail scrubs. When given the chance to speak, he apologized to his parents then complained that the government had “abused its federal power” and “overreached” in its handling of his case.

“It never crossed my mind the government would be so [uncompassionate],” he said as he read from a handwritten statement.

He also said he doesn’t “see Hezbollah as a terrorist organization,” calling it “the strongest political party in Lebanon,” and saying it has defended the Lebanese people. He also insisted that the U.S. government had mistreated his family.

Hellerstein reminded him that he was lawfully convicted by a jury.

“You can’t blame the government because you’re estranged from your wife and she divorced you and took your kids to Canada,” he said.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Shayna Jacobs  



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