As a trial begins for an accused Hezbollah spy living in the New York City borough of the Bronx, a Manhattan federal jury must decide if the man in question was indeed a terrorist, or merely just a counterfeit Ugg boots salesman on the brink of divorce.
Federal prosecutors argue Ali Kourani, 34, worked as a “sleeper” agent for Hezbollah's Islamic Jihad organization, appearing to carry out a normal life while gathering intelligence on New York City airport and military facilities.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Houle said the Lebanese-born man received combat, weapons and intelligence training from the terrorist group since the age of 16.
“He was now a spy for Hezbollah. Ready to plan attacks in the United States,” Houle said.
Kourani lawfully entered the U.S. in 2003, obtaining a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering in 2009 and a master's in business administration in 2013, court documents stated.
The government argues Kourani moved to the Bronx on orders of Hezbollah leadership, became a U.S. citizen in 2009 and conducted surveillance on potential targets, including the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building, for future terrorist attacks, according to the New York Daily News.
Kourani was arrested in 2013 after blowing a Bronx traffic light with 190 pairs of counterfeit Ugg boots in his car--- a detail defense attorney Alexei Schacht claims proves his client is not a terrorist. He was questioned by NYPD's Intelligence Division following the arrest regarding trips to and from Lebanon, the Daily Beast reported.
“A highly trained terrorist operative doesn’t sell fake Ugg boots as their job,” Schacht said. When his wife left him shortly after the arrest and took their children to Canada, Kourani attempted to become an informant for the F.B.I., court documents stated.
Prosecutors said Kourani wanted the FBI to get his children back from his wife, arrest his wife’s family, give him a high-salaried job and an apartment in a doorman building all in exchange for information on the terrorist organization, Houle said. The government said it never made any promises and arrested Kourani in 2017.
“The defendant miscalculated. His plan failed,” Houle said. “The U.S. government was not prepared to provide benefits and a doorman building to a terrorist.”
Kourani’s defense team told the jury that Kourani was merely trying to cooperate with the law enforcement agency.
Schacht explained that Kourani was born in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the U.S., runs the government and is a part of daily life. Kourani approached the FBI and agreed to provide confidential information in exchange for financial compensation and immigration assistance for his relatives, he said.
The trial is expected to run for one week and at least 10 law enforcement officials are expected to testify. If convicted, Kourani could face a maximum sentence of life in jail, the New York Post reported.