New York Man Convicted as Hezbollah Spy Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison

December 3, 2019 Updated: December 4, 2019

A New York man who was convicted of seeking targets in New York City for attacks by the terror organization Hezbollah has been sentenced to 40 years in prison, the Department of Justice announced.

Ali Kourani, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is Lebanon-born, was sentenced Dec. 3 in Manhattan federal court after being convicted at trial in May.

Kourani, 35, had been recruited, trained, and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization so that he could plan, and execute acts of terrorism around the city, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. He said Kourani is the first Islamic Jihad Organization operative to be convicted and sentenced for crimes against the United States.

According to the indictment, Kourani spent years scoping out potential sites for a terror attack, including critical infrastructure, federal buildings, international airports, and even day care centers.

“The lengthy prison term imposed today on Kourani sends an important message to Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad Organization: If you are caught planning harm against this City and its residents, you will face justice and be held accountable,” Berman added.

Authorities said that Kourani had attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 at the age of 16 before moving to the United States in 2003. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2009 and a master’s in business administration in 2013.

In 2008, he applied for naturalization in the United States, falsely claiming that he had no affiliations with Hezbollah. His application was granted in April 2009, and he was issued a U.S. passport.

Prosecutors said Kourani was recruited by the terrorist group after a family residence was destroyed in 2006 during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Kourani had been assigned a “handler” or “mentor,” and the pair would often communicate through coded emails, prosecutors said. The mentor provided Kourani with tasks, debriefings, and training in tradecraft, weapons, and tactics, they said.

He then traveled to Lebanon in 2011, where he learned how to use a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, assault rifles, a submachine gun, a machine gun, and a Glock pistol, they said.

The indictment states that Kourani conducted various covert activities, which included searching for weapons suppliers in the United States who could provide firearms to aid Hezbollah operations. He also identified individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Forces, whom the organization could either recruit or target for violence.

He also gathered information regarding operations and security at airports in the United States and elsewhere, and surveyed numerous military and law enforcement facilities in New York, with the understanding that his findings would be used to prepare for future Hezbollah attacks.

The Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s with support from Iran and has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds in the United States, France, Lebanon, and Bulgaria, among others.

In 1997, the U.S. State Department designated Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organization; in 2010, officials described the group as the most technically capable terrorist group in the world, and a continuous threat to the country.

In addition to the prison term, Kourani was sentenced to five years of supervised release.