(Reuters) - Two men have been arrested and charged by U.S. prosecutors with scouting potential targets and providing material support to the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the U.S. government.
Ali Kourani, 32, of New York City and Samer El Debek, 27, of Dearborn, Michigan, were arrested on June 1, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced Thursday. Both have appeared in Manhattan federal court, according to prosecutors.
Lawyers for Al Kourani and El Debek could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday, prosecutors said Kourani attended Hezbollah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon as a teenager in 2000 before lawfully coming to the United States in 2003. He became a U.S. citizen in 2009, going on to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, the complaint said.
Prosecutors said Kourani worked for Hezbollah while in the United States, identifying potential weapon suppliers; identifying people affiliated with the military of Israel, Hezbollah’s adversary; and gathering information about U.S. airport security and about military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.
They said Kourani received additional weapons training, including on a 2011 trip to Lebanon.
In a separate criminal complaint, prosecutors said El Debek, a U.S. citizen, was recruited by Hezbollah in 2007 or 2008 and began taking a salary from the organisation.
Over the years, prosecutors said, El Debek received weapons training, including in bomb-making. They said he carried out missions for Hezbollah in Thailand to clean up materials used to make explosives that had been left behind in a house, and in Panama, where he gathered information about security and the Panama Canal and Israeli Embassy.
Both men, who remain in custody, are charged with providing material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organisation, conspiracy, and illegal weapons possession.
Hezbollah, a Shi‘ite group aligned with Iran and the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has been designated a terrorist organisation by the U.S. State Department since 1997.
The cases are United States v. Kourani, No. 17-mj-4151, and United States v. El Debek, No. 17-mj-4154, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Trott