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2 men scouted NYC locations as sleeper agents for Hezbollah, feds say

Two men, one from the Bronx, have been charged with acting as sleeper agents for an arm of the terrorist group Hezbollah, scouting locations in New York City and elsewhere for possible attacks, officials said Friday.

Charged with providing material support to Hezbollah were Ali Kourani, 32, of the Bronx, and Samer El Debek, 37, of Dearborn, Michigan. Both men were arrested on June 1 by federal agents and other members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The charges against them were unsealed Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

At an unrelated news conference Friday, NYPD chief of counterterrorism James Waters said the arrests were a result of an investigation that encompassed several years. He said El Debek and Kourani, who are being held without bail, were self admitted members of Hezbollah.

“They were to come here to live normal lives in New York but they had alternative direction from Hezbollah,” Waters said.

According to Waters, the pair had instruction to surveil locations “ in case there was a need or direction to cause harm to New York City.”

According to federal officials, Kourani, who was born in Lebanon and legally emigrated to the United States in 2003, had traveled overseas. His visits included trips to Lebanon where he was given military training by the Islamic Jihad organization, said by investigators to be a military and intelligence component of Hezbollah. After returning to the United States, Kourani sought out weapons suppliers, tried to identify people affiliated with the Israeli military and surveilled U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the officials said.

El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen with apparent ties to Lebanon, also allegedly received military training from Hezbollah there. El Debek, also known as Samer Eldebek, allegedly traveled to Thailand in 2009 to clean up explosive precursors in a house in Bangkok and also was accused in court papers of traveling to Panama in 2011 and 2012 to locate the U.S. and Israeli embassies and identify weaknesses in the construction of the Panama Canal.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said Kourani had a preliminary appearance in court on June 2 and El Debek was presented in court on Monday. Both men were charged in court papers with providing material support to a foreign terrorist group and receiving military training from the group.

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