The Department of Justice has announced the arrest of two Hezbollah men, one in New York and another in Michigan, for allegedly plotting attacks in New York and the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Panama. DOJ officials released these statements:

Acting U.S. Attorney [Joon H.] Kim said: “Today, we announce serious terrorism charges against two men who allegedly trained with and supported the Islamic Jihad Organization, a component of the foreign terrorist organization Hizballah. Recruited as Hizballah operatives, Samer El Debek and Ali Kourani allegedly 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. At the direction of his Hizballah handlers, El Debek 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. Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in America, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City. Thanks to the outstanding work of the FBI and NYPD, the allegedly destructive designs of these two Hizballah operatives have been thwarted, and they will now face justice in a Manhattan federal court.”

Assistant Director in Charge [William F.] Sweeney Jr. said: “The charges announced today reveal once again that the New York City 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. Our announcement today also reveals, however, that the 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’d like to thank the hundreds of investigators who comprise the FBI’s New York JTTF and display constant vigilance on our behalf, and I encourage the public to remain engaged and to immediately report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

Officials stated that the two men did not have a specific plan, but they looked for targets. They also reported that these men “received weapons and bomb-making training in Lebanon.”

The Suspects

Ali Kourani

Kourani, born in Lebanon, “attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training program at age 16.” He also “lied on his immigration application” when he claimed he did not have “ties to any foreign terrorist organization.” He earned his citizenship in 2009 after he arrived in 2003. NBC New York continued:

Prosecutors said Kourani was an active member of the Islamic Jihad Organization – a branch associated with Hezbollah and had traveled to China Guangzhou where Hizballah in the past had been known to obtain bomb making materials for the group. They said he also sought to buy weapons in the U.S. to send to the group.

Kourani also earned a B.S. degree in biomedical engineering and an M.A. in business administration. He traveled back to “Lebanon in 2006 when his family home was destroyed in Israel’s war with Hezbollah.”

Samer El Debek

Officials believe that El Debek joined Hezbollah in 2008. He “traveled to Lebanon for training on numerous occasions,” which included “bomb-making training.”

The authorities stated that he flew to Thailand in 2009 “on his U.S. passport to help clean up explosive residue left behind in a safehouse used by members of a Hezbollah backed terror cell.”

Two years later in 2011, El Debek supposedly “went to Panama to photograph the American and Israeli embassies security measures.” Then he traveled back to observe the Panama Canal in 2012.

Authorities found “250 searches for sites like ‘Hezbollah martyrs’ and ‘martyrs of Islamic resistence [sic]'” on his computer.