War on Terrorism

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Defendant Sentenced to 26 Years’ Imprisonment for Conspiring to Murder Five U.S. Soldiers

Defendant Participated in Plot to Conduct Suicide Attacks Against Coalition Forces

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa was sentenced to 26 years’ imprisonment to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release by United States District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf for his role in conspiring to murder U.S. soldiers in Iraq.  ‘Isa pleaded guilty to the charge in March 2018.  The Court entered a judicial order of removal to Canada.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the sentence.

“With today’s sentence, ‘Isa has been held accountable for his role in a deadly conspiracy that ultimately contributed to the tragic loss of five U.S. soldiers in Iraq,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “This Office, together with the FBI, the NYPD and all the members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, will take every step necessary to apprehend and prosecute terrorists, wherever they are located, in furtherance of our fundamental mission of protecting the American people.”

“Today’s sentence brings some measure of earthly justice to an individual involved in the deaths of five service members, but it cannot begin to compensate for the evil he contributed to or alleviate the pain of those families whose lives he changed forever,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “We in the National Security Division are inspired in our work by those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

“Muhammad ‘Isa’s efforts to facilitate a suicide attack, one that ultimately resulted in the death of five young American soldiers in Iraq, has landed him a sentence of more than two decades behind bars,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  “While this sentence is significant, it doesn’t come close to mitigating the pain and suffering these soldiers’ families will face for the rest of their lives. As this case comes to a close, let us remember the names of those who were murdered that day, and vow to never forget the daily sacrifices made by the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces and their families.”

“The NYPD will do everything in its power to combat terror, and to support the brave men and women serving our country overseas,” stated NYPD Commissioner O’Neill.  “This includes defeating deadly terrorist conspiracies that target U.S. troops.  I want to commend our partners in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI for helping to bring Mr. ‘Isa to justice for his role in this tragic and cowardly act.”

The defendant was a member of a multinational terrorist network that helped those who wished to carry out suicide bombings travel to Iraq.  On April 10, 2009, terrorists associated with the network carried out an attack on the United States Military’s Forward Operating Base Marez (“FOB Marez”) in Mosul, Iraq.  Terrorists drove a truck laden with explosives drove to the gate of FOB Marez, and exchanged fire with Iraqi police officers guarding the base and then with an American convoy exiting the base.  The truck detonated alongside the last vehicle in the convoy, leaving a 60-foot crater in the ground.  Five American soldiers were killed in the blast:  Staff Sergeant Gary L. Woods, 24, of Lebanon Junction, Kentucky; Sergeant First Class Bryan E. Hall, 32, of Elk Grove, California; Sergeant Edward W. Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis, Missouri; Corporal Jason G. Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa; and Army Private First Class Bryce E. Gaultier, 22, of Cyprus, California.

While residing in Canada, the defendant communicated with Syria- and Iraq-based members of the terrorist network, including certain individuals who conducted the April 10, 2009 attack.  In those communications, the defendant suggested a contact to facilitate travel for the attackers from Syria into Iraq, in addition to offering words of encouragement and religious guidance.  He also communicated with a group of prospective suicide bombers whose efforts to travel to Iraq were ultimately unsuccessful.

‘Isa has been incarcerated since his extradition from Canada in January 2015.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Alexander A. Solomon is in charge of the prosecution with the assistance of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

The Defendant:

Age: 51
Toronto, Canada

E.D.N.Y. Docket No.  11-CR-819 (RRM)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Local Man Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Trying to Join ISIS

DAYTON – A Dayton man was sentenced today in U.S. District Court to 180 months in prison and 25 years of supervised release for attempting, and conspiring, to join the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).  U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and Special Agent in Charge Todd A. Wickerham of the FBI’s Cincinnati Division made the announcement.

“Alebbini was prepared to kill soldiers and citizens of the United States, the Kingdom of Jordan, and coalition partners fighting against ISIS.  Indeed, Alebbini was prepared to kill any person who did not accept ISIS as the Islamic Caliphate,” said U.S. Attorney Glassman. “Prison is the right place for him.”

“Alebbini was determined to travel overseas for the purpose of joining ISIS and engaging in violence in support of the foreign terrorist organization,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “Notwithstanding pleas from others close to him, Alebbini declared that he is a terrorist and decided to move forward with his plan to join ISIS.  Thanks to the great work of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are assigned to this case, Alebbini’s plans were thwarted and he is being held accountable for his crimes.”

Laith Waleed Alebbini, 28, was convicted following a bench trial in November and December 2018 before U.S. District Judge Walter H. Rice.

Alebbini attempted, and conspired, to provide material support and resources to ISIS in the form of personnel, namely himself.

Alebbini, a citizen of Jordan and a U.S. legal permanent resident, was arrested by the FBI on April 26, 2017, at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport, as he approached the TSA security checkpoint.

Alebbini waived his right to trial by jury, and the case proceeded to trial before the Court. The evidence at trial showed that at the time of his arrest, Alebbini had a ticket and boarding pass in hand for a flight to Amnan, Jordan, with a connection in Istanbul, Turkey. The evidence also showed that Alebbini intended to forego the flight to Jordan and instead make his way from Turkey into Syria to join ISIS.

According to court documents and testimony, on April 20, 2017, during a six-hour conversation with a friend who tried to talk Alebbini out of traveling and joining ISIS, Alebbini told his friend: “The Islamic State is fighting a survival war . . . I, cousin, want to go to be an inghimasi soldier.” 

As explained at trial, an “inghimasi soldier” is a particularly lethal type of suicide bomber – one who seeks to cause as much death and destruction as possible prior to detonation. 

On April 26, 2017, about one hour before Alebbini arrived at the Cincinnati/Kentucky International Airport, several relatives pleaded with Alebbini not to join ISIS.  Alebbini responded in three separate back-to-back text messages:  “Do you think I am a criminal”  “I am a terrorist”  “I am mujahid.”

U.S. Attorney Glassman and Assistant Attorney General Demers commended the investigation of this case by the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes officers and agents from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Oakwood Police Department, Dayton Police Department, Cincinnati Police Department, Colerain Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, University of Cincinnati Police Department, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, West Chester Police Department, and Cincinnati State Police Department.

First Assistant Vipal J. Patel and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dominick S. Gerace of the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section prosecuted this case.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ali Kourani Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court For Covert Terrorist Activities On Behalf Of Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization

Ali Kourani Was Trained by Hizballah’s External Terrorist Operations Component and Gathered Intelligence in New York City in Support of Attack-Planning Efforts

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that a jury returned a guilty verdict today against Ali Kourani, a/k/a “Ali Mohamad Kourani,” a/k/a “Jacob Lewis,” a/k/a “Daniel,” on all eight counts in the Indictment, which charged him with terrorism, sanctions, and immigration offenses for his illicit work as an undercover terrorist operative for Hizballah’s external attack-planning component.  KOURANI is scheduled to be sentenced on September 27, 2019, by the Honorable Alvin K. Hellerstein, who presided over the eight-day trial.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Ali Kourani was recruited, trained, and deployed by Hizballah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism in the United States.  Kourani’s chilling mission was to help procure weapons and gather intelligence about potential targets in the U.S. for future Hizballah terrorist attacks.  Some of the targets Kourani surveilled included JFK Airport and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.  Today, Kourani has fittingly been convicted for his crimes in a courthouse that stands in the shadow of one of his potential targets.”

As reflected in the criminal Complaint, Indictment, and the evidence presented at trial:

Hizballah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components that was founded in the 1980s with support from Iran.  Since Hizballah’s formation, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including United States citizens and military personnel.  In 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated Hizballah a Foreign Terrorist Organization, pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and it remains so designated today.  In 2010, State Department officials described Hizballah as the most technically capable terrorist group in the world, and a continued security threat to the United States.

The Islamic Jihad Organization (“IJO”), which is also known as the External Security Organization and “910,” is a highly compartmentalized component of Hizballah responsible for the planning, preparation, and execution of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hizballah outside of Lebanon.  In July 2012, an IJO operative detonated explosives on a bus transporting Israeli tourists in the vicinity of an airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing six people and injuring 32 others.  Law enforcement authorities have disrupted several other IJO attack-planning operations around the world, including the arrest of an IJO operative surveilling Israeli targets in Cyprus in 2012, the seizure of bomb-making precursor chemicals in Thailand in 2012, including chemicals manufactured by a medical devices company based in Guangzhou, China (“Guangzhou Company-1”), and a similar seizure of chemicals manufactured by Guangzhou Company-1 in Cyprus in May 2015 in connection with the arrest of another IJO operative.

KOURANI, who was born in Lebanon, attended Hizballah-sponsored weapons training in Lebanon in 2000 when he was approximately 16 years old.  After lawfully entering the United States in 2003, KOURANI obtained a Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering in 2009, and a Masters of Business Administration in 2013.

KOURANI and certain of his relatives were in Lebanon during the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah, when a residence belonging to his family was destroyed.  At some point before 2008, IJO recruited KOURANI to its ranks.  In August 2008, KOURANI submitted an application for naturalization in the United States in which he falsely claimed, among other things, that he was not affiliated with a terrorist organization.  In April 2009, KOURANI became a naturalized citizen and was issued a United States passport.  Despite claiming in his passport application that he had no travel plans, KOURANI traveled to Guangzhou, China – the location of Guangzhou Company-1 – on May 3, 2009.  He later claimed to the FBI that the purpose of the trip was to meet with medical device manufacturers and other businessmen.

IJO assigned KOURANI an IJO handler, or mentor, responsible for providing him with taskings, debriefings, and arranging training.  KOURANI sometimes communicated with his handler using coded email communications, including messages sent by the handler that informed KOURANI of the need to return to Lebanon.  In order to establish contact with his handler when KOURANI returned to Lebanon, KOURANI called a telephone number associated with a pager (the “IJO Pager”) and provided a code that he understood was specific to him.  After contacting the IJO Pager, the handler would contact KOURANI to set up an in-person meeting by calling a phone belonging to one of KOURANI’s relatives.  The IJO also provided KOURANI with additional training in tradecraft, weapons, and tactics.  In 2011, for example, KOURANI attended a weapons training camp in the vicinity of Birkat Jabrur, Lebanon, where he used a rocket propelled grenade launcher, an AK-47 assault rifle, an MP5 submachine gun, a PKS machine gun (a Russian-made belt-fed weapon), and a Glock pistol.

Based on other taskings from IJO personnel, which IJO personnel conveyed during periodic in-person meetings when KOURANI returned to Lebanon, KOURANI conducted operations, which he understood to be aimed at preparing for potential future Hizballah attacks.   These covert activities included searching for weapons suppliers in the United States who could provide firearms to support IJO operations; identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force whom the IJO could either recruit or target for violence; gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the United States and elsewhere, including JFK International Airport in New York; and surveilling U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in New York City, including the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.  KOURANI transmitted some of the products of his surveillance and intelligence-gathering efforts back to IJO personnel in Lebanon using digital storage media.

*                      *                      *

KOURANI, 34, of the Bronx, New York, was convicted of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a sentence of 10 years in prison or a fine; conspiracy to receive military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; conspiracy to possess, carry, and use firearms and destructive devices during and in relation to crimes of violence, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison; making and receiving a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; conspiracy to make and receive a contribution of funds, goods, and services to and from Hizballah, in violation of IEEPA, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and naturalization fraud in connection with an act of international terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the defendant’s sentence will be determined by Judge Hellerstein.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (“FBI”) New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department.  Mr. Berman also thanked the Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division.

This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emil J. Bove III and Amanda L. Houle, with assistance from Trial Attorney Bridget Behling of the Counterterrorism Section.