On January 15, 2004, a federal grand jury in Michigan unsealed an indictment charging a thirty-two-year-old Lebanese citizen living in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn with conspiracy to provide material support to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, in custody awaiting deportation on a previous immigration violation, is accused of conspiring with his brother, Haidar Kourani, chief of military security for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, to provide support for the group. Kourani raised "a substantial sum" of money for Hezbollah while in the U.S., according to U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins.
The indictment, issued on November 19, 2003, says that Kourani was a "member, fighter, recruiter and fund-raiser for Hezbollah." The U.S. government has designated Hezbollah (Arabic for "Party of God") as a foreign terrorist organization and has repeatedly described it as one of the most sophisticated and dangerous terrorist groups that America faces, perhaps more sophisticated than al Qaeda. Kourani, who pleaded not guilty to the charge during his arraignment, faces 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
Last May, Kourani, 32, was arrested and pleaded guilty to entering the country illegally from Mexico in 2001. While in custody he was convicted of another charge of harboring an illegal immigrant and was sentenced to half a year in prison, which he completed on December 31, 2003.
Kourani is not the first alleged Hezbollah supporter to be arrested in Dearborn. In January 2004, federal authorities arrested two more Dearborn residents, Ali Abdul-Karim Farhat and Hassan Farhat, on cocaine distribution charges. Ali, a U.S. citizen, and Hassan, his brother and a Lebanese student, are believed by federal authorities to possibly have financially supported Hezbollah.
Also in January 2004, Dearborn resident Elias Mohamad Akhdar was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for his role in a cigarette smuggling ring designed to finance Hezbollah. Another Dearborn resident, Hassan M. Makki, received a nearly five year sentence in connection with the scheme.
In 2001, federal authorities arrested Bassam Youssef Hammoud as part of a crackdown on cigarette smuggling and other illegal means of financing Hezbollah. Hammoud pleaded guilty in 2002 to conspiracies involving money laundering and racketeering.
Also in 2001, Dearborn resident Ali Boumelhem was convicted of trying to send weapons and ammunition to Hezbollah. In 1998, an automobile engineer from Dearborn, Fawzi Mustapha Assi, was arrested for allegedly trying to provide Hezbollah with $120,000 of electronics gear; Assi fled the country before going to trial.