nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Mohamud (S.D. Ohio June 29, 2017) (guilty plea in case involving material support to al Nusrah + plans to attack inside US)

June 29, 2017

Plea documents attached, and press release details below:

WASHINGTON – Court records unsealed today reveal that Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, 25, of Columbus, Ohio, pleaded guilty to all counts alleged against him regarding a terrorist plot.

A federal grand jury charged Mohamud in April 2015 with one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to terrorists, one count of attempting to provide and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization – namely, the al-Nusrah Front – and one count of making false statements to the FBI involving international terrorism in an indictment returned in Columbus. Mohamud pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers on Aug. 14, 2015, and the plea was sealed because of an ongoing investigation.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Special Agent in Charge Angela L. Byers of the FBI, Prosecutor Ron O’Brief for Franklin County, and the FBI’s Columbus Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), announced the plea unsealed by U.S. District Judge James L. Graham.

“Mohamud admitted to traveling overseas, providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and receiving training from terrorists. He also admitted to returning to the United States and planning to conduct an attack on American soil. He will now be held accountable for his crimes,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is counterterrorism. We will remain vigilant in our efforts to identify, disrupt, and bring to justice those who provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations and seek to conduct attacks on our homeland.”

“National security is the first priority of this office, and we will use every tool at our disposal to stop those who support foreign terrorist organizations and those who seek to do harm in the United States,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said.

“Each day the Joint Terrorism Task Force and our law enforcement partners are working to keep the community safe from those who wish to disrupt our way of life,” said Special Agent in Charge Byers. "We must continue to remain vigilant against these potential threats.”

“This case illustrates the effectiveness of the local JTTF and the cooperative effort in the Columbus area that exists to combat terrorism,” said Franklin County Prosecutor O’Brien.

According to court documents, Mohamud is a Somali-born naturalized citizen of the U.S. who, in 2014, obtained a U.S. passport and one-way ticket to Greece. During his travel in April 2014, Mohamud did not board his connecting flight to Athens, Greece; rather, during his layover in Istanbul, Turkey, he completed pre-arranged plans to cross the border into Syria. In Syria, Mohamud received training from al-Nusrah Front, a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.

According to a statement of facts supporting Mohamud’s guilty plea, while in Syria, Mohamud trained with al-Nusrah Front on fitness, and on the use of weapons and tactics. Mohamud also engaged in a firefight and expressed his desire to die fighting in Syria.

After his brother was killed while fighting for al-Nusrah Front, Mohamud returned to the U.S. According to the statement of facts, after returning to the U.S., Mohamud planned to obtain weapons in order to kill military officers or other government employees or people in uniform. Evidence seized by the FBI indicates that Mohamud researched places in the U.S. to carry out such plans.

Mohamud was originally arrested and indicted in state court and a $1 million bond was set that maintained him in custody. Those state charges were dismissed when the federal prosecution commenced. Mohamud was then transferred into federal custody following the April 2015 indictment and remains in custody.

Providing material support to terrorists and providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization are each crimes punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Making false statements involving international terrorism carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the cooperative investigation of the FBI’s JTTF with numerous local partners. Trial Attorneys Bridget Behling and Lolita Lukose of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Douglas Squires, Jessica H. Kim and Salvador Dominguez and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Gibson of the Southern District of Ohio, are prosecuting the case.

2017 06 29 Mohamud 41-1 SOF.pdf

2017 06 29 Mohamud 41-Plea Min.pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Sullivan (W.D.N.C. June 27, 2017) (life sentence for plotting mass shooting in coordination with the Islamic State)

June 27, 2017

Details from the press release below:

WASHINGTON – Justin Nojan Sullivan, 21, of Morganton, North Carolina, was sentenced today to life in prison for attempting to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries, in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charge on Nov. 29, 2016.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina and Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong of the FBI’s Charlotte, North Carolina Division, made the announcement. U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger presided over the sentencing.

“Sullivan is a convicted terrorist who plotted with now-deceased Syria-based terrorist Junaid Hussain to execute acts of mass violence in the United States in the name of ISIS,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “Counterterrorism remains our highest priority and we will continue to identify and hold accountable those who seek to commit acts of terrorism within our borders. I want to thank the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this result.”

“Sullivan was actively planning the mass killing of innocent people with an attack designed to inflict maximum casualties and maximum pain in the name of ISIS, a sworn enemy of our nation. Sullivan’s allegiance to ISIS did not stop there. He also planned to film and send a video of his deadly attack to now-deceased Junaid Hussain, a prominent ISIS member based in Syria, and further expressed his wish to create a new branch of the so-called Islamic State in the United States. The life sentence imposed on Sullivan reflects the seriousness of his crimes, protects the public from the danger he poses, and serves as a deterrent to others who wish to harm civilians within our borders. Our fight against terrorism continues whether against those who commit crimes on behalf of ISIS or any other foreign terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.

“Identifying a terrorist before an attack happens is one of the most difficult tasks we face in the FBI. We compare it to finding a needle in a stack of needles. But that is exactly what we did to stop Justin Sullivan from carrying out his murderous plot in the name of ISIL. It took an incredible level of cooperation and collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Today’s life in prison sentence is the result of the hard work of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force working around the clock to protect this country from those who seek to do us harm,” said Special Agent in Charge Strong.

Federal Terrorism Charges

According to information contained in court documents, starting no later than September 2014, Sullivan sought out and downloaded violent ISIS attacks on the Internet, such as beheadings, and collected them on his laptop computer. Court records indicate that Sullivan openly expressed support for ISIS in his home and destroyed religious items that belonged to his parents.

As Sullivan previously admitted in plea related documents filed with the court and at his plea hearing, beginning no later than June 7, 2015, Sullivan conspired with Junaid Hussain, an ISIS member responsible for online recruitment and providing directions and inspiration for terrorist plots in Western countries, to plan mass shooting attacks in North Carolina and Virginia. Sullivan discussed those plans on social media with an undercover FBI employee (UCE), who Sullivan attempted to recruit to join in such attacks.

Court documents indicate that Sullivan told the UCE via social media that it was better to remain in the U.S. to support ISIS than to travel. Sullivan suggested that the UCE obtain weapons and told the UCE that he was planning to buy a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle at an upcoming gun show in Hickory, North Carolina. On or about June 20, 2015, Sullivan attempted to purchase hollow point ammunition to be used with the weapon(s) he intended to purchase.

According to court records, Sullivan had researched on the Internet how to manufacture firearm silencers and asked the UCE to build functional silencers that they could use to carry out the planned attacks. Court records show that Sullivan told the UCE he planned to carry out his attack in the following few days at a concert, bar or club, where he believed as many as 1,000 people would be killed using the assault rifle and silencer.

Filed documents indicate that over the course of Sullivan’s communications with Junaid Hussain, Hussain had asked Sullivan to make a video of his planned terrorist attack, to which Sullivan had agreed.

On or about June 19, 2015, the silencer, which was built according to Sullivan’s instructions, was delivered to him at his home in North Carolina, where Sullivan’s mother opened the package. Sullivan took the silencer from his mother and hid it in a crawl space under his house. When Sullivan’s parents questioned him about the silencer, Sullivan, believing that his parents would interfere with his plans to carry out an attack, offered to compensate the UCE to kill them.

Sullivan previously admitted that he took substantial steps towards carrying out terrorist attacks in North Carolina and Virginia by: (1) recruiting the UCE; (2) obtaining a silencer from the UCE; (3) procuring the money that would have enabled him to purchase the AR-15; (4) trying to obtain a specific type of ammunition that he believed would be the most “deadly”; (5) identifying separate gun shows where he and the UCE could purchase AR-15s; and (6) obtained a coupon for the gun shows he planned for himself and the UCE to attend on June 20 or 21, 2015.

The Court’s Findings

The Court announced its reasons for accepting the agreed life sentence. The Court noted that Sullivan’s plan to murder innocent civilians at a social gathering was similar to the Orlando nightclub attack in 2016. According to the Court, Sullivan’s plan, however, was more sinister because he planned to use stealth – including a mask to hide his identity and a silencer to kill as many as possible, with the hope to escape and kill again. The Court found that Sullivan’s offense was cold and calculating.

In making today’s announcement, Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Rose praised the investigative efforts of the FBI, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente and U.S. Attorney Rose also thanked the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Charlotte Division, the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Charlotte, the North Carolina Highway Patrol and the Hickory Police Department for their assistance in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael E. Savage of the Western District of North Carolina and Trial Attorney Gregory R. Gonzalez of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Mallory (E.D. Va. June 22, 2017) (espionage charge against contractor passing classified info to China; false statement to FBI)

June 22, 2017

The Complaint is attached. The charges are (i) false statement to the FBI (under 18 USC 1001) and (ii) sharing defense information with the intent to advantage a foreign country (under 18 USC 794). The press release details appear below. Note: once again there are interesting details about the defendant’s attempts to engage in secure communications, this time involving some unsuccessful uses of a secure messaging platform.

WASHINGTON – Kevin Patrick Mallory, 60, of Leesburg, Virginia, made his initial appearance in federal court today on charges that he transmitted Top Secret and Secret documents to an agent of the People’s Republic of China. According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Mallory, travelled to Shanghai in March and April 2017 and met with an individual (PRC1), who he believed was working for the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service (PRCIS).

The announcement was made by Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

“The conduct alleged in this complaint is serious, and these charges should send a message to anyone who would consider violating the public’s trust and compromising our national security by disclosing classified information,” said Mr. Boente.

“Kevin Mallory was previously entrusted with Top Secret clearance and therefore had access to classified information, which he allegedly shared and planned to continue sharing with representatives of a foreign government,” said Mr. Vale. “Furthermore, he allegedly misled investigators in a voluntary interview about sharing of this classified information. The FBI will continue to investigate those individuals who put our national security at risk through unauthorized disclosures of information.”

During a voluntary interview with FBI agents on May 24, Mallory stated that PRC1 represented himself as working for a People’s Republic of China think tank, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). Since at least 2014, the FBI has assessed that Chinese intelligence officers have used SASS affiliation as cover identities.

Mallory told FBI agents he travelled to Shanghai separately in March and April to meet with PRC1 and PRC1’s boss. After Mallory consented to a review of a device he had been using to communicate with PRC1, FBI viewed a message from Mallory to PRC1 in which Mallory stated that he had blacked out security classification markings on documents transmitted to PRC1. Analysis of the device also revealed a handwritten index describing eight different documents. Four of the eight documents listed in the index were found stored on the device, with three containing classified information pertaining to the same U.S. government agency. One of those documents was classified TOP SECRET, while the remaining two documents were classified SECRET.

Mallory, a self-employed consultant with GlobalEx LLC, is a U.S. citizen who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. He has held numerous positions with various government agencies and several defense contractors. As required for his various government positions, Mallory obtained a Top Secret security clearance, which was active during various assignments during his career. Mallory’s security clearance was terminated in October 2012 when he left government service.

Mallory was arrested this morning and is charged with gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government, and making material false statements. If convicted, Mallory faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Trial Attorney Jennifer Kennedy Gellie of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. Gibbs for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

17 06 22 Mallory Criminal Complaint.pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Raishani (S.D.N.Y. June 22, 2017) (attempted material support to IS)

June 22, 2017

The press release is below, the criminal complaint attached. One interesting element here is the depiction of the steps the defendant took for security when trying to view IS-related content online.

WASHINGTON – Saddam Mohamed Raishani, a/k/a “Adam Raishani,” 30, of the Bronx was arrested last night at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK Airport”) in Queens, New York. Raishani was charged by a criminal Complaint earlier today with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS” or the “Islamic State”), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Raishani is expected to be presented later today before Magistrate Judge James L. Cott in Manhattan federal court.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office, and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD made the announcement.

“According to the complaint, Raishani attempted to travel overseas to join ISIS and to provide material support to the designated terrorist organization,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters abroad and bring to justice those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations. I would like to thank all of the agents, analysts and prosecutors who are responsible for this case.”

“As alleged, Saddam Mohamed Raishani, a Bronx man, plotted to travel to Syria to join and train with the terrorist organization ISIS,” said Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Kim. “Having already helped another man make that trip to ISIS’s heartland, Raishani allegedly acted on his own desire to wage violent jihad, planning to leave his family and life in New York City for the battlefields of the Middle East. Thanks to the excellent work of the FBI and NYPD, Raishani’s alleged plan to support this deadly terrorist organization was cut short at the airport and now he will face federal terrorism charges.”

“This case is another alleged instance of the nature of the terrorism threat and its reach into communities here at home,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney Jr. “It is also a great example of the coordination which exists among local and federal law enforcement partners who work together to stop these alleged threats and interdict individuals allegedly determined on joining a terrorist organization intent on conducting violence around the globe. The FBI’s JTTF will continue to work with our partners, both here and abroad, to prevent acts of terrorism.”

“As we have seen many times before, allegedly attempting to join a designated terrorist organization usually has one outcome: arrest,” said Commissioner O’Neill. “Thank you to the NYPD detectives and FBI agents who, through the original Joint Terrorism Task Force, remain relentless in their focus to keep New York City safe.”

As alleged in the criminal Complaint,[1] filed today in Manhattan federal court:

In January 2017, Raishani contacted an individual who was, unbeknownst to Raishani, a confidential source working at the direction of law enforcement (the “CS”). During a meeting with the CS, Raishani told the CS that Raishani had a friend (“Person-1”), who had left New York to join the Islamic State some time ago.[2] Raishani told the CS that prior to Person-1’s departure, Raishani took Person-1 shopping to buy supplies to bring to the Islamic State. Riashani also said to the CS that, on the day of Person-1’s departure, Raishani gave money to Person-1 and drove Person-1 to JFK Airport. In later meetings with the CS, Raishani expressed his regret at not having traveled with Person-1 to join ISIS. Raishani also indicated his desire to wage jihad and his belief that the Quran can be read to justify the violence, including beheadings, engaged in by ISIS.

As part of the investigation, the CS introduced Raishani to an undercover law enforcement officer (“UC-1”), who was posing as an individual who wanted to travel abroad to fight for ISIS. During meetings with the CS and UC-1, Raishani expressed his desire to travel abroad to join ISIS. For example, Raishani stated that he had been in contact with other ISIS supporters and no longer felt comfortable in the United States. He also showed UC-1 a video that appeared to depict ISIS supporters discussing their desire to travel overseas to join ISIS and its ongoing fight. Raishani further showed the CS and UC-1 an ISIS video that appeared to depict ISIS members in Yemen killing civilians who did not support ISIS.

In addition, Raishani advised the CS and UC-1 as to how they could avoid detection by law enforcement. For example, Raishani advised the CS to cover the camera on the CS’s computer and turn off the computer’s microphone when watching pro-ISIS videos online. Raishani also advised the CS to use a particular Internet browser (the “Browser”) to hide their online activity, and explained that he used the Browser to watch ISIS and jihadi videos online. Furthermore, Raishani himself put on gloves when using a laptop and viewing pro-ISIS and pro-jihadi videos online. Moreover, Raishani told UC-1 that if they traveled together to join ISIS, Raishani, a home health aide, could pose as a nurse and UC-1 could pose as a refugee aid worker, in order to cross international borders without being stopped and questioned by authorities. Finally, Raishani told the CS and UC-1 that he (Raishani) had to be careful because he believed that federal authorities were monitoring his activities.

By April 2017, Raishani was actively planning to travel abroad to join ISIS. The CS told Raishani that, through a family acquaintance, the CS might be able to obtain contact information for an ISIS affiliate capable of facilitating travel to join ISIS. In reality, the purported facilitator was an FBI employee acting in an undercover capacity (“UC-2”). In May 2017, Raishani contacted UC-2 and said that he had previously helped another individual travel to join ISIS. Raishani further told UC-2 that he was seeking guidance for his own “hijrah,” an Arabic term normally used to refer to migration, but which is also used by ISIS supporters to refer to traveling overseas to join ISIS and engage in jihad. In subsequent conversations with the CS, UC-1, and/or UC-2, Raishani stated that he aspired to travel to Syria to join ISIS and that he aimed to travel before the end of Ramadan, an Islamic holy month that runs from approximately May 26 through June 24 this year. He indicated that he would be in contact with UC-2 about his travel. Raishani also stated that if he is “locked up,” he will not care, as “Allah will reward [him] for attempting jihad.”

In June 2017, Raishani told the CS that he was making preparations to leave, including paying off his remaining debts. Subsequently, Raishani and UC-1 purchased clothing that they intended to wear for their training with ISIS. Earlier this week, Raishani revealed to UC-2 his (Raishani’s) intention to meet an ISIS member in Turkey in the next few days, who would facilitate Raishani’s joining the terrorist organization. Raishani also purchased an airline ticket for a flight scheduled to depart on June 21, 2017, from JFK Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, via Lisbon, Portugal. On June 21, 2017, Raishani traveled to JFK Airport, where he was arrested by the FBI after he attempted to board that flight to Lisbon.

* * *

Raishani, is charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge. The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Mr. Kim praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD, and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. Mr. Kim also thanked the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys George D. Turner, Sidhardha Kamaraju, and Jane Kim are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Kevin C. Nunnally of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

2017.06.22 Raishani Complaint (Stamped).pdf


nationalsecuritylaw United States v. Kourani and el Debek (SDNY June 8, 2017) (material support/training/IEPPA re Hezbollah)

June 8, 2017

A very interesting pair of arrests and complaints today. To be sure, it’s not the first time material support charges have been brought in connection with Hezbollah, but the past examples that I recall off the cuff involved people sending them money (the Charlotte cigarette smuggling case, which was one of the early 2339B cases) or equipment (night vision goggles, I believe, in another case), or the means of communication (a car involving H’s cable channel). This new pair of cases differs in that it falls into the category of using support charges to incapacitate persons who are themselves potentially-dangerous, according to the allegations. There are many support cases like this, but I don’t recall seeing this approach used previously outside the al Qaeda context (broadly understood). Of course, it may be that prior support cases involved Hezbollah defendants whom the FBI did view as personally-dangerous, yet the charges and allegations did not need to (or could not (perhaps for evidentiary reasons)) reveal that aspect of the fact pattern. Or it could simply be that this is the first fact pattern of this kind to arise with Hezbollah agents inside the United States. Anyway…press release details below, copies of the complaints attached.

WASHINGTON – Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, and Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan, aka, “Samer Eldebek,” were arrested on Thursday, June 1, on charges related to their alleged activities on behalf of Hizballah, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Office, and Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the NYPD made the announcement.

Acting U.S. Attorney 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 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.”

Commissioner O’Neill said: “As part of his work for Hezbollah, Kourani and others allegedly conducted covert surveillance of potential targets, including U.S. military bases and Israeli military personnel here in New York City. Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of Hezbollah in planning for future attacks. As alleged, Kourani, on at least two occasions, received sophisticated military training overseas, including the use of a rocket propelled grenade. In addition, El Debek is charged in an unrelated complaint, for allegedly possessing extensive bomb making training received from Hezbollah. Today’s charges of two for their work on behalf of Hezbollah is a tribute to the collaborative work of the agents and detectives of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

Kourani was arrested in the Bronx for providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hizballah; receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hizballah; a related weapons offense that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and machine guns; violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA); and naturalization fraud to facilitate an act of international terrorism. Kourani was presented on Friday, June 2, before Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses in Manhattan federal court.

El Debek was arrested in Livonia, Michigan, outside of Detroit, for providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Hizballah; receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hizballah; use of weapons in connection with a crime of violence that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and machine guns; and violating and conspiring to violate IEEPA. El Debek was presented on June 5, before Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan federal court.

As alleged in the criminal Complaints against Kourani and el Debek,[1] both of which were unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Background on Hizballah and the Islamic Jihad Organization

Hizballah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components. Hizballah was founded in the 1980s with support from Iran after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and its mission includes establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon. Since Hizballah’s formation, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel. In 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated Hizballah a Foreign Terrorist Organization, pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and it remains so designated today. In 2001, pursuant to Executive Order 13224, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated Hizballah a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity. In 2010, State Department officials described Hizballah as the most technically capable terrorist group in the world, and a continued security threat to the U.S.

The Islamic Jihad Organization (“IJO”), which is also known as the External Security Organization and “910,” is a component of Hizballah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hizballah outside of Lebanon. In July 2012, an IJO operative detonated explosives on a bus transporting Israeli tourists in the vicinity of an airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed six people and injured 32 others. Law enforcement authorities have disrupted several other IJO attack-planning operations around the world, including the arrest of an IJO operative surveilling Israeli targets in Cyprus in 2012, the seizure of bomb-making precursor chemicals in Thailand in 2012, including chemicals manufactured by a medical devices company based in Guangzhou, China (“Guangzhou Company-1”), and a similar seizure of chemicals manufactured by Guangzhou Company-1 in Cyprus in May 2015 in connection with the arrest of another IJO operative.

Kourani’s Alleged Support of Hizballah

Kourani, who was born in Lebanon, attended Hizballah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 when he was approximately 16 years old. After lawfully entering the U.S. in 2003, Kourani obtained a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009, and a Masters of Business Administration in 2013.

Kourani and certain of his relatives were present during the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon, when a residence belonging to his family was destroyed. Kourani was subsequently recruited to join the IJO by 2008. In August 2008, Kourani submitted an application for naturalization in the U.S. in which he falsely claimed, among other things, that he was not affiliated with a terrorist organization. In April 2009, Kourani became a naturalized citizen and was issued a U.S. passport. Despite claiming in his passport application that he had no travel plans, Kourani traveled to Guangzhou, China – the location of Guangzhou Company-1 – on May 3, 2009. He later claimed to the FBI that the purpose of the trip was to meet with medical device manufacturers and other businessmen.

Kourani was assigned an IJO handler, or mentor, responsible for providing him with taskings, debriefings, and arranging training. Kourani sometimes communicated with his handler using coded email communications, including messages sent by the handler that informed Kourani of the need to return to Lebanon. In order to establish contact with his handler when Kourani returned to Lebanon, Kourani called a telephone number associated with a pager (the “IJO Pager”) and provided a code that he understood was specific to him. After Kourani called the IJO Pager, the handler would contact Kourani to set up an in-person meeting by calling a phone belonging to one of Kourani’s relatives. The IJO also provided Kourani with additional training in tradecraft, weapons, and tactics. In 2011, for example, Kourani attended an IJO military training camp located in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon, where he was provided with military-tactics and weapons training, including training in the use of a rocket propelled grenade launcher, an AK-47 assault rifle, an MP5 submachine gun, a PKS machine gun (a Russian-made belt-fed weapon), and a Glock pistol.

Based on other taskings from IJO personnel, which were conveyed during periodic in-person meetings when Kourani returned to Lebanon, Kourani conducted operations that included searching for weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations, identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force, gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere, and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Kourani transmitted some of the products of his surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts back to IJO personnel in Lebanon using digital storage media.

El Debek’s Alleged Support of Hizballah

El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008, began to receive a salary from Hizballah shortly thereafter, and was paid by Hizballah through approximately 2015. In July 2006, shortly before he was recruited by Hizballah, el Debek expressed by email his support for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah.

El Debek received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon on several occasions, from approximately 2008 through approximately 2014. El Debek received training in basic military tactics, the handling of various weapons, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices. Based on information el Debek provided to the FBI, FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hizballah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing, a bombing that el Debek reported was carried out by a relative of his. El Debek received by email in 2010 a list of raw materials that could be sent from Syria or Dubai, including items often used in explosives and improvised explosive devices.

El Debek also conducted missions for Hizballah in Thailand and Panama. In May 2009, el Debek traveled from Lebanon, through Malaysia, to Thailand, where his mission was to clean up explosive precursors in a house in Bangkok that others had left because they were under surveillance. El Debek used his U.S. passport to enter and leave Thailand, consistent with his instructions from Hizballah to use his U.S. passport so he could travel from Malaysia to Thailand without obtaining a visa.

El Debek first traveled to Panama for Hizballah in 2011, where his operational tasks included locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased. Shortly before traveling to Panama, el Debek updated his status on Facebook with a post that read, in part, “Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people.”

In early 2012, el Debek again traveled to Panama for Hizballah, passing through New York and New Jersey, and was asked to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal. Upon his return from Panama, el Debek’s IJO handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy there and details about its security procedures.

El Debek has told the FBI that he was detained by Hizballah from December 2015 to April 2016 and falsely accused of spying for the U.S. Between November 2014 and February 2017, el Debek, who received religious training from Hizballah, has conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as “martyrs of the holy defense,” “martyrs of Islamic resistance,” “Hizballah martyrs,” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”

* * *

Kourani is charged with providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of 10 years in prison or a fine; conspiracy to receive military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; conspiracy to possess, carry, and use firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to crimes of violence, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; making and receiving a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to make and receive a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and naturalization fraud in connection with an act of international terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

El Debek is charged with providing and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of 10 years in prison or a fine; conspiracy to receive military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; possessing, carrying, and using firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to crimes of violence, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; making and receiving a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and conspiracy to make and receive a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Kim praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD. Mr. Kim also thanked the FBI’s Detroit Office and the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

These prosecutions are handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Amanda L. Houle for the Southern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution of Kourani. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew D. Beaty and Stephen J. Ritchin for the Southern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution of el Debek. Trial Attorneys Lolita Lukose and Alexandra Hughes of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are assisting the prosecutions.

The charges contained in the Complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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17 06 08 U.S. v. Ali Kourani Complaint.pdf
17 06 08 U.S. v. El Debek Complaint.pdf