U.S. Arrests Two Hezbollah Members Allegedly Planning Attacks on Israeli, American Targets

Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, and Samer el-Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan, were operated by Hezbollah's foreign operations unit, the Justice Department says

File photo: People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he appears on a screen during a live broadcast to mark Resistance and Liberation Day in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, May 25, 2017.
REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

Two Hezbollah members were arrested in the United States on June 1st for allegedly planning attacks on Israeli and American targets, the Department of Justice said on Thursday.

The two were identified as Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, and Samer el-Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan.

Kourani is being accused of surveying potential targets for a terrorist attack. These targets included Israeli military personnel in the U.S. and American military installations in New York. In addition he allegedly gathered intelligence on airport security in the U.S. and looked into acquiring weapons. Some of this information reached Hezbollah in Lebanon.

El-Debek allegedly surveyed the Israeli and American embassies in Panama in an attempt to uncover faults in the security. In addition, he accepted a mission to locate security weaknesses in the Panama Canal, and supply information on "how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal," according to a statement issued by the Department of Justice.

According to the Department of Justice, el-Debek received substantial training in bomb making. In one instance, he was sent to Thailand in 2009 to take care of a number of bombs left in a Bangkok apartment, which were not detonated because the crew that left them there learned they were being tracked. The FBI believe he has substantial knowledge in explosives.

The two, according to the charges, were operators of Hezbollah's 910 Unit, the organization's foreign operations unit. The unit was once led by Imad Mughniyah, which was assassinated in 2008,  according to the Washington Post in a joint CIA-Mossad operation.  

The two are being tried in a federal courthouse in Manhattan. 

On Wednesday, in an event marking the 11th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot said that "Hezbollah grew stronger in its abilities, though it is in a complicated situation." The chief of staff claimed that the IDF has total superiority over Hezbollah, but still the organization is in the IDF's highest priority. Eizenkot noted that the organization has lost 1,700 men in the civil war in Syria, but that it is gaining considerable combat experience. 

The chief of staff further said that Hezbollah was in "dire budgetary problems, dire problems of moral, and the realization that the organization lost two of its commanders in in the last seven years. One is Imad Mughniyah, who was killed in Damascus, the other was a Hezbollah commander [Mustafa Badreddine] murdered by his commanders a year ago.