A Michigan man is facing terrorism charges stemming from his alleged involvement with Hezbollah, the U.S. government announced.
Samer El Debek, 37, was arrested in Livonia, Mich. on June 1 following an FBI raid conducted at his Dearborn home.
According to the criminal complaint, El Debek allegedly received military-style training in Lebanon, which included rocket-propelled and machine gun training.
“El Debek allegedly conducted missions in Panama to locate the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and to assess the vulnerabilities of the Panama Canal and ships in the Canal,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
A New York man, Ali Kourani, 32, was also arrested in the Bronx on terrorism charges. He is accused of providing, attempting, and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah, among other charges.
David Gelios, special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, said the arrests pose no threat to the metro Detroit area.
“Last week’s arrest related to alleged illegal activity did not occur in Michigan,” Gelios said a statement. “FBI Detroit has no credible information to suggest any terrorism threat to the (area).”
El Debek is accused by the U.S. government of the following:
- Providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah.
- Receiving and conspiring to receive military-type training from Hezbollah.
- Use of weapons in connection with a crime of violence that is alleged to have involved, among other weapons, explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and machine guns.
- Violating and conspiring to violate IEEPA.
El Debek was presented these charges on June 5, before Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan federal court.
From the U.S. Government on Samer El Debek:
El Debek, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was first recruited by Hizballah in late 2007 or early 2008, began to receive a salary from Hizballah shortly thereafter, and was paid by Hizballah through approximately 2015.
In July 2006, shortly before he was recruited by Hizballah, el Debek expressed by email his support for Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah.
El Debek received military training from Hizballah in Lebanon on several occasions, from approximately 2008 through approximately 2014. El Debek received training in basic military tactics, the handling of various weapons, surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques, and the creation and handling of explosives and explosive devices.
Based on information el Debek provided to the FBI, FBI bomb technicians have assessed that el Debek received extensive training as a bomb-maker, has a high degree of technical sophistication in the area, and was trained in techniques and methods similar to those used to construct the improvised explosive device used in Hizballah’s 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing, a bombing that el Debek reported was carried out by a relative of his.
El Debek received by email in 2010 a list of raw materials that could be sent from Syria or Dubai, including items often used in explosives and improvised explosive devices. El Debek also conducted missions for Hizballah in Thailand and Panama.
In May 2009, el Debek traveled from Lebanon, through Malaysia, to Thailand, where his mission was to clean up explosive precursors in a house in Bangkok that others had left because they were under surveillance.
El Debek used his U.S. passport to enter and leave Thailand, consistent with his instructions from Hizballah to use his U.S. passport so he could travel from Malaysia to Thailand without obtaining a visa.
El Debek first traveled to Panama for Hizballah in 2011, where his operational tasks included locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased.
Shortly before traveling to Panama, 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.”
In early 2012, el Debek again traveled to Panama for Hizballah, passing through New York and New Jersey, and was asked to identify areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.
Upon his return from Panama, el Debek’s IJO handlers asked him for photographs of the U.S. Embassy there and details about its security procedures.
El Debek has told the FBI that he was detained by Hizballah from December 2015 to April 2016 and falsely accused of spying for the U.S.
Between November 2014 and February 2017, el Debek, who received religious training from Hizballah, has conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as “martyrs of the holy defense,” “martyrs of Islamic resistance,” “Hizballah martyrs,” and “martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon.”