June 11, 2017
Two Men Arrested For Surveilling New York City, FBI Warns Public To Remain Vigilant

After a spate of terror attacks in London and Manchester, the U.S. is doing all it can to safeguard its citizens.

In an effort to stop potential threats, the FBI, along with NYPD, nabbed two Lebanese Muslim men for surveilling U.S. facilities in New York on behalf of Hizballah, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The men who were arrested last week, have been identified as Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, and Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan, aka, Samer Eldebek, the Department of Justice stated in its press release.

The duo, allegedly recruited as Hizballah operatives, had received military-style training, including the use of weapons like rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns. They were both naturalized U.S. citizens.

In August 2008, Kourani submitted an application for naturalization in the United States in which he falsely claimed, among other things, that he was not affiliated with a terrorist organization. In April 2009, Kourani became a naturalized citizen and was issued a United States passport.

According to the DoJ, between November 2014 and February 2017, Eldebek conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as "martyrs of the holy defense," "martyrs of Islamic resistance," "Hizballah martyrs," and "martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.

El Debek was also assigned to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies in Panama, find out their security procedures at the Panama Canal and locate hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased. Shortly before traveling to Panama, el Debek updated his status on Facebook which read, "Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people."

According to the FBI, El Debek has been trained in basic military tactics, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices.

Hizballah, founded in 1980s, is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components. The organization receives support from Iran after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Its primary objective is to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon. According to the FBI report, ever since the formation of Hizballah, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have led to the loss of hundreds of lives, including U.S. citizens and military personnel.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York said that investigations revealed that El Debek, at the direction of his Hizballah handlers, 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.

Investigations also revealed that Kourani conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

Ali Kourani and Samer Eldebek will now face justice in a Manhattan federal court.

William F. Sweeney Jr, assistant director in-charge of the FBI's New York Office, pointed to the fact that areas in and around New York City are still vulnerable. He said that the 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.

"Dozens of agencies working together with our FBI JTTFs nationwide are just as determined to disrupt the plans of those working to harm our communities. I encourage the public to remain engaged and to immediately report suspicious activity to law enforcement," he said.

Commissioner James P. O'Neill of the NYPD said that the Hezbollah operatives were allegedly assessing the facilities to plan future attacks. "As part of his work for Hezbollah, Kourani and others allegedly conducted covert surveillance of potential targets, including U.S. military bases and Israeli military personnel here in New York City. Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of Hezbollah in planning for future attacks," he said.

[Featured Image by Will Morris/AP Images]