Feds: Dearborn man was a trained bomb maker for terror group

DEARBORN, MICH. - One week after the FBI raided a Dearborn home in the middle of the night, a new terrorism case surfaced in New York on Thursday involving two men: a Dearborn man who allegedly received bomb-making training from a terror group and another man who allegedly plotted attacks on New York.

Samer el Debek, 37, of Dearborn and Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx were arrested a week ago and charged with training and working on behalf of Hizballah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization based in Lebanon.

"FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker," the Justice Department stated.

The charges were unsealed in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, one week after federal agents raided a Dearborn home in what they described as an operation involving national security. Sources familiar with the case tell the Free Press the raid involved el Debek, who was arrested in Livonia that same day and subsequently charged with numerous crimes — though none involved plotting attacks in New York.

In December, another Dearborn man was sentenced to five years in prison for seeking to join Hizballah in Lebanon.  Also, in 2014 in a separate case, a former Dearborn resident was killed in Syria while fighting for Hizballah.

According to criminal complaints unsealed Thursday in Manhattan's U.S. District Court,  el Debek and Kourani were recruited as Hizballah operatives and received military-style training, including in the use of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns, in support of the group’s terrorist mission. 

Kourani allegedly conducted surveillance of potential targets in the U.S., including military and law enforcement facilities in New York, authorities said.

“The charges announced today reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of Hizballah," said William F. Sweeny Jr., assistant director in charge of the New York FBI office.

According to the Justice Department,  el Debek was arrested in Livonia on June 1 on numerous charges and is in custody in New York, along with Kourani. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

In announcing the charges, the Justice Department offered a detailed account of the defendants' alleged criminal activities and how they fell on the government's radar.

According to the government, this is how the Dearborn man came to the attention of the FBI after years of working for Hizballah.

El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008.  Shortly before being recruited, he expressed his support for the terror group's leader in an e-mail and eventually received a salary from Hizballah through 2015.

For years, authorities said, el Debek received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon. From 2008 through 2104, the terror group taught him how to make bombs, handle weapons and conduct surveillance and countersurveillance.

According to the government, el Debek was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to build the bomb that in 2012 blew up a bus in Bulgaria that was transporting Israeli tourists,  killing six and injuring 32. That terror attack, the government said, was carried out by one of el Debek's relatives.

While working for Hizballah, el Debek conducted missions  in Thailand and Panama. One of his missions was to clean up explosive materials in a house in Bangkok that others had left because they were under surveillance, the government said.  At the direction of Hizballah, el Debek used his U.S. passport to enter and leave Thailand so that he could travel from Malaysia to Thailand without obtaining a visa. 

El Debek's missions in Panama  included locating U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy and locating hardware stores where explosive materials could be purchased. After returning from a 2012 trip to Panama, el Debek’s handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy and details about its security procedures. 

Over the years, el Debek's Facebook account raised red flags with the FBI. According to the government, shortly before traveling to Panama in 2011, el Debek updated his status on Facebook with a post that read, in part, “Do not make peace or share food with those who killed your people.”  He also conducted more than 250 Facebook searches over three years for terms such as "martyrs of the holy defense" and "martyrs of Islamic resistance," the government said.

Kourani, meanwhile, is accused of equally serious crimes, says the government. It alleges he conducted covert surveillance of potential U.S. targets, including U.S. military bases and Israeli military personnel  in New York. Kourani was arrested in the Bronx on numerous terrorism charges and also faces up to life in prison if convicted.

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© Detroit Free Press


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