(CNSNews.com) – A Lebanese-born man recruited by Hezbollah before becoming a naturalized American citizen was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years’ imprisonment, after being convicted of offenses that included helping the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror group prepare for potential attacks on U.S. soil.
Ali Kourani, 35, becomes the first member of Hezbollah’s external terrorism-planning division, known variously as Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) or External Security Organization, to be convicted and sentenced in a U.S. court, said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Kourani attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in his country of birth in 2000, three years before he moved to the U.S., legally, to study biomedical engineering and business administration.
According to Manhattan federal court documents, he was recruited by Hezbollah/IJO in 2008, and in August of that year applied for U.S. citizenship.
During the application process, he falsely attested that he had never “been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with … a terrorist organization.”
Kourani also declared that he had never “lied to a U.S. government official to gain entry or admission into the United States.”
Two years after obtaining citizenship and a U.S. passport in April 2019, he returned to Lebanon, and received training from Hezbollah in tradecraft, tactics, and the use of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, an AK-47 assault rifle, a Russian-made machine gun, and other firearms.
Back in the U.S., Kourani was tasked by his Hezbollah handler to carry out tasks “which he understood to be aimed at preparing for potential future Hezbollah attacks,” according to the Department of Justice.
They included searching for appropriate weapons suppliers, conducting surveillance on U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in New York City, gathering information on operations and security at airports including JFK, and “identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force whom the IJO could either recruit or target for violence.”
Kourani was arrested in the Bronx in June 2017, and convicted by a jury last May of eight terror-related offenses, including providing material support to Hezbollah, receiving military-type training from the group, weapons offenses, and “unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization to facilitate an act of international terrorism.”
“While living in the United States, Kourani served as an operative of Hezbollah in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “With today’s sentence, he is being held accountable for his crimes.”
Berman said the 40-year prison term “sends an important message to Hezbollah.”
“If you are caught planning harm against this city and its residents, you will face justice and be held accountable.”
Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 1997, is part of Lebanon’s national government, with ministers in the cabinet and lawmakers in parliament.
Kourani’s sentencing came one day after it was reported that the Trump administration had lifted an unexplained, months-long hold on $105 million in appropriated military aid to Lebanon.
Critics worry that the beneficiary of U.S. military aid, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), lacks independence and is compromised by links with Hezbollah. Others disagree, viewing the LAF as a counterweight to the terrorist group (see related story).