The FBI and NYPD announced Thursday that two suspected Hezbollah sleeper cell operatives they recently arrested have been charged with plotting terrorist activities for the Iranian proxy group.
Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist organization, takes direction from the regime in Tehran. The jihadi outfit was founded in 1985 in Lebanon as a military arm to expand Iran’s caliphatist ideology, and also to conduct attacks against the state of Israel. Since then, the group has expanded to operate as a worldwide terrorist network and has heavily involved itself in the Latin American drug trade.
The two alleged Hezbollah operatives, Ali Kourani, 32, of New York City, and Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Mich., “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,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement Thursday.
According to the FBI complaint, Kourani was tasked with conducting surveillance on military targets in New York City and then delivering that intelligence to his handlers in Lebanon. On behalf of the terrorist group, Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance on an FBI office, a U.S. Army National Guard facility, and a U.S. Army Armory facility. Kourani also cased several overseas diplomatic facilities belonging to the United States and Israel, the complaint says.
El Debek was reportedly trained as a bomb-maker for the terror group. The FBI said he “received extensive training as a bomb maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hezbollah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing.”
American intelligence has long been concerned about the presence of Hezbollah sleeper cells in America. The group uses its extensive drug network in Latin America to clandestinely move throughout the Western hemisphere.
Analysts have long feared that the weakness of the U.S. border with Mexico, coupled with Hezbollah’s relationship with the Mexican cartels, could allow for the easy smuggling of people and weapons into the United States.
Hezbollah is currently heavily engaged in the Syrian Civil War in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. On Thursday, U.S. forces in Syria shot down an armed drone and bombed militants aligned with the Iran/Hezbollah/Assad regime axis. The pro-regime drone reportedly fired on coalition forces in the area, but missed its target.