Hizballah: Recent Arrests Reveal Pre-Operational Planning

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On June 1, federal authorities arrested two individuals tied to Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO)—which is responsible for planning intelligence-gathering, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of the group internationally—for attempting to provide material support, among other charges. Ali Mohamad Kourani conducted surveillance on a variety of targets in New York City, including FBI offices, an Army National Guard facility, a US Secret Service facility, a US Army armory, and John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport.

The recent arrests of Samer el Debek and Ali Mohamad Kourani indicate Hizballah has both the intent and capability to attack the United States and the West. Hizballah operatives continue to gather intelligence on security practices and military technologies in the United States, and possess the technical training and resources to target Western interests. Since 2008, IJO operatives have been implicated in over 20 terrorist attacks and plots globally, including the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing six and injuring 32 others, in 2012.

Intent

  • From 2009-15, Kourani surveilled a number of targets in New York City, including military and law enforcement facilities and JFK Airport, “in support of anticipated terrorist attacks by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization,” according to the federal complaint. At JFK Airport, Kourani was directed to identify the layout of cameras and personnel, security protocols, baggage screening practices, and law enforcement presence. Additionally, Kourani was directed to identify individuals in the United States affiliated with the Israeli Defense Forces as potential assassination targets.

  • In 2012, el Debek was sent to Panama to gather information about the Panama Canal and the Israeli and US Embassies. He was directed to obtain photographs of the US Embassy and information on security procedures, vehicular patterns and times of heavy traffic, and residential areas in the vicinity.

  • A Hizballah operative directed Kourani to acquire drones, night-vision goggles, and high-powered cameras so the IJO could evaluate and copy the technology, according to the federal complaint. Additionally, Kourani was instructed to identify contacts who could provide firearms for potential use in the United States.  

    Capability

  • El Debek is described as having a “high degree of technical sophistication” in bomb-making, according to the federal complaint. Following his arrest, el Debek told authorities how he made landmines and explosives, identified necessary chemicals—some of which can be purchased at hardware stores— and highlighted Hizballah’s preferred method of remote detonation.

  • Both suspects received extensive weapons and military training in Lebanon, including instruction on the use of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machineguns, according to federal authorities. From 2008-14, el Debek attended several training camps and learned military tactics, while Kourani attended a 45-day Hizballah boot camp in 2000 and a two-day training camp in 2011.

  • The IJO has been implicated in stockpiling large quantities of weapons and precursor chemicals, including fertilizer and ammonium nitrate. In 2015, a Hizballah operative in Cyprus was arrested for possession of over eight tons of ammonium nitrate. In 2012, an IJO member alerted law enforcement to a building in Thailand that held nearly 10,000 pounds of fertilizer and 10 gallons of ammonium nitrate.


For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Analysis Bureau at analysis@njohsp.gov or 609-584-4000.