Analysis: 2 US cases provide unique window into Iran’s global terror network

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, June 23, 2017:

On June 8, the Department of Justice (DOJ) made an announcement that deserves more attention. Two alleged Hizballah operatives had been arrested inside the United States after carrying out various missions on behalf of the Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization. The plots took the men around the globe, from Thailand to Panama and even into the heart of New York City.

Both men are naturalized U.S. citizens. And they are both accused of performing surveillance on prospective targets for Hizballah’s highly secretive external operations wing, known as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO).

Ali Kourani, a 32-year-old who was living in the Bronx, New York (pictured on the right*), allegedly gathered “information regarding operations and security at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere,” while also “surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn.” Hizballah asked Kourani to identify “individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force” inside the U.S. and locate “weapons suppliers in the U.S. who could provide firearms to support IJO operations” as well. Kourani allegedly conducted all of these missions on behalf of his IJO “handler,” who was safely ensconced back home in Lebanon.

Samer el Debek, a 37-year-old resident of Dearborn, Michigan, is charged with “casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy” in Panama, identifying “areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal,” and determining for Hizballah “how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.” His “IJO handlers” also “asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy” in Panama, as well as “details” concerning its “security procedures.” (El Debek told authorities he did not provide Hizballah with the information requested on the American embassy.)

The charges brought against Kourani and El Debek have not been proven in a court of law. They remain allegations that have yet to be weighed by the criminal justice system. Still, the legal filings in both cases provide a unique window into how the FBI and the U.S. government are tracking Hizballah’s international terror network, including inside America.

Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization first gained infamy in the 1980s, when it orchestrated various attacks on Americans and Europeans in Lebanon and elsewhere. In some ways, the IJO could be credited with launching the modern jihadist war against the U.S., pioneering the use of near-simultaneous suicide bombings. Such tactics would later be adopted by Sunni jihadists, including al Qaeda, with devastating effects.

The IJO has avoided public scrutiny at times. The public’s attention has been mainly focused on the Islamic State of late. This is understandable as the so-called caliphate inspires, directs and guides terrorist operations around the globe.

But the U.S. government’s recent filings, including the sworn affidavits of two FBI agents responsible for tracking Hizballah, make it clear that the IJO continues to manage a sophisticated, clandestine web of operatives who are trained to carry out Iran’s bidding.

The IJO uses multiple aliases, including “External Security Organization” and “910.” The government describes it as a “component of Hizballah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of” the terror group “outside of Lebanon.” The IJO’s “operatives” are usually “assigned a Lebanon-based ‘handler,’ sometimes referred to as a mentor,” and this person is “responsible for providing taskings, debriefing operatives, and arranging training.”

The IJO often compartmentalizes its operations, conducting them “in stages” and “sending waves of one or more operatives with separate taskings such as surveillance, obtaining and storing necessary components and equipment, and attack execution.” Indeed, the government explains that the IJO’s handlers keep the procurement of ammonium nitrate-based products used for bomb-making separate from other terror-related tasks so as to avoid generating additional scrutiny.

Neither Kourani, nor El Debek is accused of conspiring to commit an imminent attack. But US officials think their work was part of longer-term planning.

“Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of [Hizballah] in planning for future attacks,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill of the New York Police Department (NYPD) explained in a statement.

The surveillance performed in New York City was done “in support of anticipated IJO terrorist attacks,” according to the complaint against Kourani.

Reading through the extensive legal paperwork, totaling dozens of pages, one is left to wonder who else Hizballah may have stationed here inside the U.S. as part of its patient plotting.

The sections that follow below are based on the U.S. government’s complaints and affidavits. In many cases, these same filings say the details cited were originally provided, in whole or in part, by Kourani and El Debek themselves during interviews with the FBI.

Kourani allegedly admitted he was an IJO “sleeper” operative

Ali Kourani (also known as “Jacob Lewis” and “Daniel”) was born near Bint Jbeil, Lebanon in 1984 and relocated to the U.S. as a young man in 2003. He went on to receive “a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009” and a MBA in 2013.

Kourani sat for “multiple voluntary interviews” with the FBI in 2016 and 2017, and much of the evidence cited in the complaint against him is sourced to his own admissions during these sessions. At one point, he apparently said he hoped to exchange information for “financial support and immigration benefits for certain” relatives, but the FBI says it didn’t agree to this quid pro quo proposal.

Kourani allegedly compared his family to the “Bin Ladens of Lebanon,” describing one brother as the “face of Hizballah” in one area of Lebanon. He was first trained at a 45-day Hizballah “boot camp” in the year 2000. He was just 16 years old at the time, but claimed that his “family’s connections to a high-ranking Hizballah official named Haider Kourani” allowed him to attend the camp. Kourani was allegedly “taught to fire AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as basic military tactics.”

His “family’s home was destroyed by an Israeli bombing” during the 2006 Lebanon War. Approximately two years later, according to Kourani, he was “recruited by” Hizballah’s Sheikh Hussein Kourani to serve in the IJO.

Kourani described the IJO as being responsible for “black ops” carried out by Hizballah and “the Iranians.” Kourani also explained that the IJO is “operated” by Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who reports “directly to Ali Khamenei,” the Iranian Supreme Leader.

Kourani told the FBI that he was “recruited to join the IJO in light of his education and residence in the United States.” But there was another sinister motive for Hizballah’s interest in him. The IJO was developing a network of “sleepers” who “maintained ostensibly normal lies but could be activated and tasked with conducting IJO operations,” Kourani purportedly said.

Indeed, Kourani “identified himself” as one of these IJO “sleeper” operatives, “working undercover in the United States” and covertly “conducting IJO intelligence-gathering and surveillance missions” given to him by his handlers in Lebanon.

Kourani identified one IJO handler as “Fadi” (also known as “Hajj”) and explained the elaborate security protocols Hizballah took. In addition to be questioned about his own background, Kourani was trained on “conducting interrogations, resisting interrogations, and surveillance techniques.”

Fadi “typically wore a mask during their meetings,” explaining that the IJO’s “golden rule” is “the less you know the better it is.” Fadi “acted as” Kourani’s handler until about Sept. 2015, when Kourani claims he “was deactivated by the IJO.”

Fadi told Kourani to obtain a U.S. citizenship, a passport and related documents, thereby making it easier for him to travel around the world on behalf of Hizballah. The IJO’s man also instructed Kourani on how they could communicate securely, using code words and other basic tradecraft.

IJO surveillance in New York City, including at John F. Kennedy International Airport

The most striking allegations against Kourani involve his surveillance of potential targets in New York City on behalf of Hizballah.

Fadi “directed” Kourani to “surveil and collect information regarding military and intelligence targets in the New York City area,” the FBI found. Kourani then “conducted physical surveillance” on three locations in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn. The buildings he surveilled include: “a U.S. government facility, which includes FBI offices”; a “U.S. Army National Guard facility”; a “U.S. Secret Service facility”; and a “U.S. Army Armory facility.” Kourani transferred his video surveillance on “at least one” of these targets to “Fadi and other IJO personnel in Lebanon.”

According to the complaint, Fadi had Kourani surveil airports in the New York area. “In response,” Kourani “provided detailed information to Fadi regarding specific security protocols; baggage-screening and collection practices; and the locations of surveillance cameras, security personnel, law enforcement officers, and magnetometers at JFK and an international airport in another country.”

Fadi tasked Kourani with other missions as well. He told Kourani to “obtain surveillance equipment in the United States” – including “drones, night-vision goggles, and high-powered cameras” – “so that the underlying technology could be studied and replicated by the IJO.” He also had Kourani “cultivate contacts” who “could provide firearms for use in potential future IJO operations in the United States” (Fadi allegedly deemed these contacts unsuitable for arms purchases), while also collecting “intelligence regarding individuals…affiliated with the” Israeli Defense Forces.

Read more

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

The West’s Blind Spot Towards Russia

By Ralph H. Sidway:

Perhaps there really is a “colonial mentality” afflicting the Western Powers after all.  How else to explain the succession of disastrous foreign policy choices by Barack Obama, David Cameron, and the NATO alliance regarding the “Arab Spring,” which are not merely ill advised, but downright immoral.

The Burning of Christian Smyrna by Turkish Troops, September 14, 1922

It’s one thing to put forth a foreign policy which tries to spread democracy, but it is quite another when one puts one’s finger on the scale—as the Obama Administration has done in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria—in order to leverage into power repressive forces who historically have persecuted their neighbors, and have stated their intention to do so again today.

Democratic governance in Islamic nations should not, in fact, be the goal of United States foreign policy. As Raymond Ibrahim has written, “as with all forms of governance, democracy is a means to an end: based on whether that end is good (freedom) or bad (tyranny) should be the ultimate measure of its worth.”

Indeed, as we have seen in the bloody persecution of Christians under Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Egypt and the other poisonous fruits of the “Arab Spring,” Islamists do not respect the principles nor the goals of democracy, but merely use it as a tool, a means to theirend, even likening voting to a form of jihad, their ultimate goal being the institution of shariah law. And as nearly fourteen hundred years of Islamic history has proven, the shariah means tyranny for non-Muslims.

This extreme dissonance regarding the end goal is one component of the West’s blind spot towards the Levant. Mistaking the process of democracy as a goal in and of itself, the West has chosen some spectacularly unsavory bedfellows. And by allying itself to the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the cannibalistic Syrian rebel jihadis, the Obama Administration and its partners have launched out on a course which can only lead to another genocide against indigenous Christians, a classic case of history being repeated.

In the early-mid 19th century, although Great Britain, France and Russia together sought to protect the Christian minorities under the Ottoman yoke, Britain later, under Disraeli, actually aligned with the Ottomans, and effectively allowed severe repressions of the Serbs in 1875, and massacres of Bulgarians in 1876, in which as many as 100,000 Christians were slaughtered by Turkish forces.

It was only the Russians who actually came to the defense of the Armenians and the Balkan Christian populations in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Romania, Serbia and Montenegro gained full independence through the Russian victory, and Bulgaria autonomy. Britain became more alarmed, however, at Russia’s resurgence than at the Ottoman threat to Christian minorities, and forced Russia out of Ottoman territory through the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. This led to a soft-influence, “lead from behind” approach by the Great Powers, which ultimately enabled the irrefutably documented Turkish genocidal massacres of Armenian and Christian populations from 1894 through to 1915.

The similarities to our own age are startling.

Read more at Raymond Ibrahim’s blog

Hizballah Officials Reject Targeting of “Wings”

by John Rossomando:

Iran/Hizballah’s Global Shi’ite Terror Network

813_largeby Yaakov Lappin:

deadly bus explosion in Bulgaria targeting Israeli tourists, a bomb plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, and a ship carrying large quantities of arms to terrorists – what do these have in common?

They are all examples of hostile action by a global Shi’ite terrorist network, which is larger and more organized than any Sunni al-Qaida-inspired group currently in existence.

The following examples include known recent attempted attacks:

  • February 2012: Two Iranians turn an apartment in Bangkok, Thailand into an explosives factory and plan to assassinate Israeli diplomats. Their plan is botched after Thai police receive intelligence about the plot. One of the terrorists tries to flee police with explosives and loses his legs after a failed attempt to hurl a grenade at officers. His accomplice is later arrested in neighboring Malaysia while trying to board a flight. The men are currently on trial in Thailand.
  • February 2012: The wife of an Israeli diplomat is seriously injured after a terrorist attaches a magnet bomb to her vehicle in New Delhi, India. Indian authorities have arrested an Indian-Muslim journalist with ties to the official Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency in connection with the attack.
  • On the same day, an Israeli embassy staffer in Tbilisi, Georgia discovered a bomb underneath his car as he was driving to the embassy Monday morning.
  • May 2008: Azerbaijan arrests two Lebanese Hizballah members for plotting attacks on the Israeli embassy in Baku. The men are later sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
  • October 2012: Azerbaijan sentences 22 of its citizens to lengthy jail sentences after convicting them of assisting the Iranian Republican Guards Corps to plan attacks on the Israeli and American embassies.
  • July 2012: Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver are murderedby a Hizballah bomber who attacked their tour bus at the resort city of Burgas. The attack occurs just outside of an airport, after the tourists landed on a plane from Israel. Bulgaria later blames Hizballah for the atrocity, and announces a manhunt for two suspected members of the cell who assisted the bomber. The bomber is killed in the blast.
  • February 2013: A Cypriot court sentences a Lebanese national to four years in prison after he was caught making reconnaissance trips to the Mediterranean island’s airport, to track and record the movement of Israeli passengers. The plot’s intended victims and methodology closely resemble the ‘soft target’ approach taken by Hizballah in Bulgaria.
  • April 2013: An Iranian travelling on a fake Israeli passport is arrested outside of the Israeli embassy in Nepal, after carrying out hostile reconnaissance on the premises.

Israel is by no means the only target.

Read more at IPT

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

Europe Rolls Over for Hezbollah Blackmail

by Soeren Kern:

The recent cases in Bulgaria and Cyrus provide irrefutable evidence that Hezbollah is highly active in Europe, where it raises funds, launders money, traffics drugs, recruits operatives and plots attacks with impunity

images (26)The main objective of Israeli President Shimon Peres’s week-long state visit to Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg March 5-12 is apparently to persuade reluctant European leaders to designate Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement a terrorist organization.

Blacklisting Hezbollah would deprive the militant group of significant sources of fundraising by enabling the freezing its bank accounts and assets in Europe. It would also facilitate intra-European police cooperation aimed at pursuing and arresting Hezbollah operatives believed to be living underground throughout Europe.

Several Western countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands officially classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization years ago. But the European Union has steadfastly resisted calls to sanction Hezbollah.

EU leaders say they do not have enough information to make a judgment about whether Hezbollah is involved in terrorism. They have tried to justify themselves by saying that because the issue is legal, not moral, in nature, they need “courtroom evidence” of Hezbollah’s culpability.

Well, at least that has been clarified: in recent weeks Bulgarian authorities implicated Hezbollah in the July 18, 2012 terrorist attack which killed five Israeli tourists and their driver in the Black Sea resort of Burgas.

Bulgaria’s February 5 public announcement, which angered many EU countries afraid of provoking Hezbollah, was the first time that an EU member state has officially established that Hezbollah was guilty of a carrying out a terrorist attack on EU territory.

European officials have long rationalized their lack of resolve against Hezbollah by claiming that the organization has both a military wing and a political wing, and that cracking down on the former would cripple the latter, which consequently would lead to the destabilization of Lebanon as well as the broader Middle East.

Many analysts, however, say this high-mindedness is a smoke screen behind which Europeans are hiding to conceal the real reason why they are reluctant to confront Hezbollah: fear, fear and more fear.

Europeans are afraid to call Hezbollah what it is because they fear reprisals against European interests at home and abroad. Europeans also fear that if they take a hard line against Hezbollah, the group may activate sleeper cells and carry out attacks in European cities. (According to a leaked German intelligence report, there are more than 900 Hezbollah operatives in Germany alone.)

Read more at Gatestone Institute

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

 

Bulgaria Points Finger at Hezbollah

Bulgaria bus bombing / AP

Bulgaria bus bombing / AP

BY: :

Bulgarian officials on Tuesday implicated the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in a targeted bombing last year that killed five Israeli tourists.

Bulgaria could clear the way for Europe to finally designate Hezbollah as a terror group by officially pointing its finger at Hezbollah—and by proxy Iran, which sponsors the terror group.

Bulgarian investigators revealed they could link the terrorists to Hezbollah and Iran.

“There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects,” Reuters quoted Bulgarian interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov as saying Tuesday.

“What can be established as a well-grounded assumption is that the two persons whose real identity has been determined belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah,” Tsvetanov said.

Israel and the United States suggested Hezbollah was to blame for the attack soon after it occurred last year.

“We strongly urge other governments around the world—and particularly our partners in Europe—to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah. We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday in a statement.

The revelation of Hezbollah’s involvement in the coordinated attack could pave the way for European nations to finally blacklist the terror group, which is still permitted to fundraise and transport money in much of the European Union.

Read more at Free Beacon

See also:

Short-Circuiting Sanctions – “European Union courts have quietly rolled back economic sanctions on several Iranian banks that have long been suspected of transferring funds to terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

The Burgas Attack: Iran’s Terror War Against Israel

By P. David Hornik

Wednesday’s suicide bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian tour guide, as well as the bomber himself. Over thirty Israelis were also injured, three of them seriously.

The bomber had a fake driver’s license of the state of Michigan. On Thursday evening Bulgarian media named him as Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen who was in the Guantanamo detainment camp from 2002 to 2004 and whose freedom was basically secured by the Swedish authorities. Sweden, however, denied the report’s accuracy.

Video footage from the day of the bombing shows that the perpetrator, with long hair, shorts, sneakers, a baseball cap, and a backpack, clearly intended to look like something other than a suicide bomber.

On the other hand, the Israeli daily Haaretz reports that “airport security cameras captured the suspect roaming the airport for at least one hour.” If so, it’s hardly to airport security’s credit that their suspicions weren’t even aroused enough to question him—if they were watching at all.

But Iran—to which Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister publicly assigned ultimate responsibility for the attack—has been trying for months to mass-murder Israelis in less-efficient countries like Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, and others. This time the attempt “succeeded”: “Body parts were strewn across the ground, mangled metal hung from the bus’s ripped roof and black smoke billowed over the airport.”

Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “All signs point to Iran…. This is [part of] a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it.” In a press conference Thursday evening he added “that Israel and world security agencies have caught Hizbullah and Iranian operatives in [numerous] countries, after attacks, planning terror attacks and laying the infrastructure to wage their war of terror.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated: “The immediate executors [of Wednesday’s attack] are Hizbullah operatives, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship.” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said he had conclusive information implicating Hizbullah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Speculations have attributed the attack to Hizbullah’s desire to avenge the 2008 assassination in Damascus of its terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, for which it blames Israel, and Iran’s desire to avenge the recent assassinations of nuclear scientists, for which it blames Israel as well. But these are, at most, proximate causes; for both these bodies the destruction of Israel is a central goal, and the murder of its citizens has consistently been a means toward it.

Read more at Front Page

Related article:

U.S. links Iran to nine 2012 plots against Israeli targets around the world: report (nationalpost.com)