BEIRUT: A United States federal court convicted a Lebanese-American man Thursday on charges of plotting attacks and gathering intelligence on behalf of Hezbollah.
Thirty-four-year-old Ali Kourani, from Bint Jbeil’s Yater, was convicted on eight charges, including terrorism and conspiracy to use weapons in a violent crime, which is punishable by life in prison.
“Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hezbollah terrorist attacks,” U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
Some of the targets Kourani surveyed include New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and facilities in New York City, including a federal building. “Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets,” Berman said.
Kourani is set to be sentenced on Sept. 27.
Kourani was born in Lebanon but was naturalized by the U.S. in 2009. According to the statement, he received training from Hezbollah and took orders from agents after his arrival to the U.S. in 2003, reportedly including an order instructing him to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Kourani was arrested in June 2017 in the Bronx, New York for providing and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization. Another man, Samer al-Debek, was arrested on the same day in Michigan. He is also accused of belonging to Hezbollah and is still awaiting trial.
A source close to Kourani’s family decried the charges, saying Kourani did not belong to the party.
“He was 15 or 16 when he left [Lebanon], he does not have any affiliations,” the source told The Daily Star, adding that the charges against Kourani “are not real charges. If he accessed a website or read a report then he is a terrorist?”
Regarding the surveillance of JFK International Airport, the source said that Kourani had the airport’s location on his phone when he used it to travel.
“[A donkey] in New York knows the location of JFK and La Guardia airports. If he traveled once and had the location on his phone, then he is surveilling the airport?”
Kourani’s family, which resides in Yater, is “in a terrible situation. ... His mother is crying every night,” the source said.
“We know he is innocent. Now they want to imprison him for life. For what? What does Hezbollah want with a [U.S.] citizenship?” the source said.
Another source in Yater Municipality who said he personally knows Kourani said people in Yater believe Kourani had been framed.
“If Ali Kourani had millions like Carlos Ghosn, the [Lebanese] state would have demanded [his release],” the source close to Kourani’s family said, calling on the Foreign Ministry to take action.
A source at the Foreign Ministry said they have not been contacted by Kourani’s family.