The Alleged Hezbollah Sleeper Cell Agent Who Ran Ops from Bronx Apartment

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

The thirty-four-year-old Ali Kourani is allegedly not just some “lone wolf” who had been radicalized online learning to build a bomb in the kitchen. Kourani’s is a story of twists and turns, including attempts of recruitment from the FBI that did not quite work out so well for him.

“Naomi Rodriguez is an emergency medical technician who works 12-hour shifts in the streets of The Bronx, so she immediately recognized the irony when the unremarkable-looking man who lived one floor above her was alleged to be a terrorist sleeper agent.”

““I save lives, and here’s this one trying to take them,” she remarked this week from the doorway of her apartment on West 238th Street in the borough’s Kingsbridge Heights section.”

According to the Daily Beast report, “all will become clear when he goes on trial Monday, this seemingly unremarkable man whom Rodriguez saw in the stairway is alleged to have been a longtime undercover operative for an international terrorist organization.”

Kourani had allegedly been recruited as part of a plan to exact revenge for the car-bomb killing of a terror mastermind whom a former CIA agent called “probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else.” Kourani was, by his own multiple admissions, trained in explosives and small arms, along with secure communications, survival and interrogation as a member of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization (ESO), also known as the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO). Or simply 910.

“Or Hezbollah black ops,” the FBI adds in court papers.

That dead Hezbollah mastermind was Imad Mughniyah, known as “second in command of Hezbollah and founding head of its military, intelligence and security wing.”

Kourani was born in Lebanon in June 1984 to a family he claims has connections with Hezbollah. He has told the FBI that his clan were “the bin Ladens of Lebanon.” He was 16 when his familial social stature enabled him to attend a 45-day terror boot camp.

“During the training, Kourani was taught to fire AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as basic military tactics, by Hezbollah personnel wearing uniforms,” a subsequent criminal complaint says.

In 2003, at the age of 19, he emigrated to the U.S.. He lived in a two-family house in Queens, and studied biomedical engineering at the City University of New York.

According to the unsealed FBI criminal complaint and arrest warrant out of the Southern District of New York in May 2017, he told FBI agents it was during a trip home to Lebanon in 2008 after Mughniyah’s death that a cleric from his family’s village approached him to recruit him, that it was “likely because of his education and the fact that he was already rooted in the U.S. He was a perfect candidate for a “sleeper,” a seemingly ordinary person leading a normal life who could be activated to carry out terrorist acts when called.”

Kourani said he never saw his handler’s face, he was only known as ‘Fadi’ and wore a mask during their meetings, according to the complaint report.

“The complaint details one of Fadi’s first instructions: “Obtain United States citizenship and a U.S. passport as soon as possible.””

Kourani fulfilled the first part of that mission in April of 2009. He applied for a passport the following week, and for a visa to China a week later. He is said to have flown in to Guangzhou, the location of a company that manufactures purported first aid ice packs that contain ammonium nitrate, an active ingredient in explosives. A large number of these “ice packs” would subsequently be found in Hezbollah bomb factories in Thailand and Cyprus. Guangzhou is also a major center for counterfeit clothing, which has been described as a major source of income for Hezbollah.

In 2011 Kourani is called back to Lebanon for more military training. Upon returning to the U.S. his instructions were to “identify possible sources of weapons and to research how to open businesses in New York that Hezbollah could use,” the complaint alleges, to use “as cover for the storage of firearms intended for ESO assassinations and attacks in the U.S.”

Kourani was allegedly instructed to scout several targets: the Israeli consulate security, federal buildings, including offices of the FBI and a Secret Service facility. He allegedly made videos of an US Army Armory located in Manhattan and of JFK airport.

But all of this isn’t, and wouldn’t be, known until November 2013 when Kourani ran a stop sign in Queens and, according to the Daily Beast, a police report he was arrested after being caught with 190 pairs of counterfeit Ugg boots which prompted the NYPD Intelligence Division to interview him on several occasions.

However, it wouldn’t be until September 2015 he came to further law enforcement’s attention after he returned back from another Lebanon trip, arriving at the same airport he had, allegedly, “extensively surveilled.”

“Law enforcement personnel determined that Kourani’s cellphone did not contain a memory card, but found a memory card secreted under a travel sticker affixed to Kourani’s U.S. passport,” the complaint reports.

Kourani had gone seven years as an alleged sleeper agent without being activated in any operational capacity. He deduced that the most likely reason was Hezbollah’s 2015 discovery that Mohammad Shawraba, the very man in charge of external operations and the revenge mission in particular, was an Israeli mole. Shawraba was said to have sabotaged numerous attack plans while the sleeper agents slumbered on.

On April 1, 2016—“April’s Fools Day,” Kourani would note—he stopped into his regular Starbucks in Queens. A man approached and showed him an FBI badge.

“We know your affiliation with Hezbollah,’” the agent said.

“You most likely have the wrong person,” Kourani said.

At a McDonald’s next door, the agent handed him a file folder containing a cellphone.

“I’m going to reach you at that phone number,” the agent said. “Make sure that no one knows that you have that phone.”

The FBI repeatedly called Kourani over the days ahead to arrange meetings, during which they urged him to become an informant.

The day then came when an attorney Kourani had retained left a voicemail message with the FBI.

In a series of meetings at his lawyer’s office, Kourani is said to have told the agents about his life as a sleeper agent, but the FBI remained convinced he was not telling all he knew. The agents sought to shake more out of him.

It wouldn’t be until June 1, 2018 that the FBI quietly arrested Kourani on eight counts of alleged terror-related offenses, “from providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization to obtaining citizenship “to facilitate an act of transnational terrorism.””

Kourani would be booked “at the same federal building he had surveilled for Hezbollah, but waived a court appearance and the criminal complaint was sealed.”

Agents held Kourani in custody at a Marriott Hotel hoping they could convince him to further cooperate, but agents and prosecutors concluded “he would not make a reliable informant. He was brought back to court and the criminal complaint against him was unsealed.”

He has been held without bail since his arrest, the prosecutors argued, because he posed not only a flight risk, but a danger if allowed free on bond.

According to a December 2017 Daily Beast report, Kourani “has pleaded not guilty to all charges.” According to his previous lawyer at the time of his arrest, it was Kourani who, through that attorney he’d hired to help in getting his kids back to the US from his wife who had left and gone to Canada, finally decided to use the phone the FBI had given him to make contact to cooperate and even met with agents “multiple times over 2016 and 2017 – including five interviews.”

“Except the attorney apparently did not get an agreement from prosecutors that they would not use the interviews against Kourani.”

Back in the Bronx, Naomi Rodriguez recalls to the Daily Beast the events of last June at the time of Kourani’s arrest when he was living one floor above her with his cousin and his cousin’s son, saying that it was “just unexpected, very unexpected.”

She described the teenager as, “a good kid… really good,” adding, “We don’t have an elevator. When I do food shopping, he helps me carry some bags or helps me with the shopping cart.”

She could only remember seeing Kourani once, as she is seldom home, leaving early to work 12-hour shifts as an EMT and returning late from attending school to become a paramedic. She is also raising two boys of her own, aged 10 and 4.

Of the accused terror sleeper agent who was her upstairs neighbor, she observed, “At the end of the day he was still willing to answer that phone call and do what they asked. You’re saying, ‘Okay, call me when you need me.’”

She added, “Being willing is just as guilty.”

For full content and context read:

The Hezbollah Sleeper Agent Who Allegedly Ran Black Ops in America
Ali Kourani allegedly helped a global terrorist network plot revenge against the U.S. from a home in the Bronx. He was undone after running a stop sign with 190 pairs of Uggs. (May 5, 2019; Daily Beast)

Feds: Hezbollah Recruited American to Be Sleeper Agent
A Bronx man was allegedly part of the Lebanese terror group’s plan to have operatives ready in case of an emergency. (December 21, 2017; Daily Beast)

From the Defense perspective, read:

He Wanted to Be an Informant. The F.B.I. Arrested Him Instead. (October 15, 2018; New York Times)

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