On May 16, a New York jury convicted the Hizballah operative Ali Kourani on multiple terrorism-related counts, including planning attacks on FBI and Secret Service offices as well as on an Army armory. His arrest and questioning, writes Matthew Levitt, suggest that the Iran-backed Lebanese organization is far more focused on carrying out attacks on U.S. soil than law-enforcement agents previously believed:
Kourani carried out [his] operational activities as a long-term sleeper agent—acting on behalf of Hizballah’s external attack-planning component, the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO)—such as identifying Israelis in New York who could be targeted by Hizballah and finding people from whom he could procure arms that Hizballah could stockpile in the area. One of the missions Hizballah assigned to Kourani was to collect detailed information about two international airports: New York’s JFK and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Based on documentation of his travel, U.S. prosecutors showed that Kourani traveled through JFK nineteen times and through Pearson seven times. . . .
Kourani warned FBI agents that Hizballah’s IJO is “even more active in Canada than they were in the United States,” one of the FBI agents who interviewed him said during his trial. Indeed, Canada loomed large in Kourani’s operational plans. In 2012, he had married a Canadian-Lebanese dual citizen.
Kourani told the FBI that he provided Hizballah with details about security procedures, the uniforms worn by security officers, and whether the officers were armed. His surveillance, Kourani told the FBI, focused on exit points, security checkpoints, camera locations, baggage-claim procedures, and what questions airport screeners asked passengers. . . . Kourani informed the FBI that “there would be certain scenarios that would require action or conduct by those who belonged to the cell.” Kourani said that in the event that the United States and Iran went to war, the U.S. sleeper cell would expect to be called upon to act. . . .
Hizballah plots have been foiled over the past few years in Peru and Bolivia, but the revelation that Hizballah conducted extensive surveillance activity in the United States and Canada over the past few years—explicitly tied to the group’s intent to exact revenge for the death of its high-ranking commander Imad Mughniyeh in 2008—is deeply disturbing. Hizballah has crossed a threshold and is, at a minimum, developing North American networks capable of executing attacks should the group’s leadership deem them necessary.