Terror Suspect Says He Survived Hezbollah Hit Squad
After rumors spread he was an informant, New York man says Hezbollah shot up his home in Lebanon.
A New York man accused of being a Hezbollah “sleeper” in the U.S. said that he survived what he suspects was an assassination attempt by the Lebanese militant organization after a rumor spread that he was a U.S. government informant. Only then did he decide to become a U.S. government informant.
Ali Kourani, a U.S. citizen and allegedly a former member of Hezbollah’s secretive Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) also known simply as “910,” made the claim in court papers earlier this month. Kourani was detailing what he said was FBI harassment he had suffered since 2012, causing the loss of jobs and a strain on his marriage.
“In the following weeks [of spring 2016] I became more desperate over my family situation and my wife and I began to see our marriage deteriorate,” Kourani, 33, writes. “In July of 2016 I took my family for a vacation to Lebanon. Following an argument with my wife, fueled by the rumor that I was an American government informant, members of Hezbollah attacked my home in Yater, Lebanon.
“These people shot bullets at my home and tried to abduct or kill me, I am not sure which,” he said.
After the incident, and following the loss of another job and further familial stresses, Kourani said he sought out the FBI. “This situation was caused largely by the FBI’s actions. So I actually felt that the FBI could help me ease the strain and pressure they had partially caused and might help me, if I finally helped the FBI.”
The result was five “non-custodial” interviews with two FBI agents, in the presence of an earlier attorney for Kourani, in which the prosecution says Kourani confessed to being a Hezbollah operative in the U.S. and provided information about his recruitment and training in Lebanon as well as surveillance activities in the U.S. on behalf of the group. Despite his cooperation, he was arrested in June and charged with terrorism-related crimes.
Kourani’s current attorney, Alexei Schacht, is mounting the defense that Kourani’s statements to the FBI agents should be suppressed because they were made when Kourani was under the impression that he had been granted immunity from prosecution. In court filings this week, the government pushed back, declining to say whether the FBI agents had made such promises and saying that even if they had, they clearly did not have the authority to do so.
A judge for the U.S. Southern District of New York, where the case is being tried, has yet to rule on Kourani’s motion to suppress.
The tale of the alleged assassination attempt is another ill-fitting piece to a curious puzzle surrounding the arrest of Kourani and another alleged Hezbollah operative, Samer El Debek, who was picked up on the same day, June 1, in Michigan. Though the two arrests were announced in the same Department of Justice press release, court papers haven’t revealed much that connects the two cases.
But, in light of Kourani’s claim about the Hezbollah assassination attempt, this detail from Debek’s case appears newly intriguing: Debek said he was also targeted by Hezbollah when he was in Lebanon and accused of being a spy for the Americans. He was kidnapped and “interrogated” by the group in December 2015 before he made what he called a false confession about being a CIA asset, was released and allowed to return to the U.S., according to court documents. (The CIA previously declined to comment on the case.)
Debek, too, later approached the FBI and offered to cooperate, meeting several times with FBI agents before he was arrested. Both Kourani and Debek have pleaded not guilty to terrorism-related charges.
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