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US hands ‘Hezbollah operative’ 40-year jail term

Ali Kourani, a Lebanese man, was found guilty of being a Hezbollah operative by a US judge
Ali Kourani, a Lebanese man, was found guilty of being a Hezbollah operative by a US judge, 4 December 2019 [Twitter]

A “Hezbollah operative” who had taken refuge in the US following the destruction of his family home by Israel during the 2006 conflict with the militant group in Lebanon, has been handed a 40-year sentence by an American judge for carrying out “covert terrorist activities” on behalf of the organisation.

The Department of Justice yesterday announced that 35-year-old Ali Kourani was sentenced on charges relating to “terrorism, sanctions, and immigration convictions arising from Kourani’s illicit work as an operative for the Islamic Jihad Organization, [Hezbollah’s] external attack-planning component”.

Kourani was found guilty of serving as an “operative of Hizballah in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States.”  Evidence provided during the trial in May showed that Kourani “searched for suppliers who could provide weapons for such attacks, identified people who could be recruited or targeted for violence, and gathered information about and conducted surveillance of potential targets within our country”.

The jury in Manhattan federal courtroom were informed that “Kourani was recruited, trained and deployed by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States.” US Attorney Berman explained that “Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hizballah terrorist attacks”. Some of the targets Kourani surveilled are said to include the JFK Airport and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.

READ: Hezbollah’s capabilities ‘doubled,’ says Iranian official

Kourani, who was born in Lebanon, is believed to have attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 when he was approximately 16 years old. After lawfully entering the United States in 2003, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009, and a Masters of Business Administration in 2013. He became a naturalised US citizen during that period.

According to the New York Post, during his sentencing yesterday, Kourani blasted the US government as ethically bankrupt. He told the Manhattan federal courtroom that prosecutors “violated all ethics” after he appeared on their doorstep volunteering information about Hezbollah — and was then charged for providing material support as a member of the militant group.

“I wonder what will be next?” the former Bronx resident, who referred to himself as “the child of a war”, hypothetically asked judge Alvin Hellerstein. “Dismembering dissidents in embassies? Turning sanctuary cities into black sites?”

The US government asked Judge Alvin Hellerstein to sentence Kourani to 110 years in prison, saying he needed to send a robust message to Hezbollah. The judge ultimately handed down a 40-year sentence, saying that it would “create a condition where his useful life is spent in prison.”

A glimpse in to Kourani’s past showed that he had been recruited by Hezbollah after his family residence was destroyed in 2006 during the conflict with Israel. The militant group, founded in 1982 in reaction to Israeli occupation is recognised by the US as a terrorist organisation.

READ: Germany denies plans to ban Hezbollah

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