U.S. Foils Hezbollah Plot To Attack American, Israeli Targets in New York and Panama

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah
Shiite Muslims Hezbollah militants stand to attention as hundreds of people gather in a huge hall to watch a televised speech by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shiite Muslim Lebanese Hezbollah militant group on February 22, 2008, in Beirut's southern suburb. Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. authorities have charged two operatives belonging to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah with terrorism offenses, accused of plotting to target American and Israeli targets in New York and Panama.

Police arrested Samer El Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan, and Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, New York, on June 1. They both appeared in a Manhattan federal court on Thursday.

U.S. authorities said the pair had been supporting “Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad organization” and had been in Lebanon for weapons and bomb-making training.

Kourani is accused of scouting targets in the U.S., specifically Israeli military personnel and U.S. military and law enforcement facilities. He looked for firearms suppliers, airport security information and returned information to the group via coded emails sent to a handler. He had receiving military training with the group on several occasions between 2008 and 2014.

Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is accused of looking for targets in Panama, including the U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as looking at the vulnerability of ships passing through the Panama Canal on a visit in 2012.

“Pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of Hezbollah in planning for future attacks,” New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill told Associated Press.

Both, if convicted, face decades in prison.

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Panama’s government said it was satisfied with the arrests as its cooperation “with international intelligence bodies” continues to “prevent this type of threat.”

Hezbollah, a movement that Iran supports financially, considers Israel to be its arch-enemy. It opposes the U.S., a key supporter of Israel and enemy of Iran’s hardline leadership and supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-long civil war. The U.S., EU, and Israel considers Hezbollah to be an extremist group.

The largest armed group in Lebanon remains popular in Lebanon because of its opposition to Israel, which it fought a one-month war against in 2006 on the southern border the country shares with Israel.