They alleged that he was recruited into Hezbollah's operations unit Islamic Jihad in 2008, and the following year became a naturalized United States citizen. Sources familiar with the case tell the Free Press the raid involved el Debek, who was arrested in Livonia that same day and subsequently charged with numerous crimes - though none involved plotting attacks in NY.
Based on interviews with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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 Hezbollah's 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria, bus bombing".
They said El Debek looked for potential targets in Panama, including US and Israeli embassies, and tried to learn how close someone could get to ships passing through the Panama Canal and whether there was weakness in its construction, while Kourani surveilled American targets, including military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.
In December, another Dearborn man was sentenced to five years in prison for seeking to join Hizballah in Lebanon.
El Debek also told investigators that he received religious training from the group, which included martyrdom ideology.
El Debek, also a naturalized USA citizen, was recruited by Hezbollah in late 2007 or early 2008, according to the Justice Department, which said he conducted multiple covert operations in Panama and Thailand, but his home base continued to be the United States. The two men documented security protocols at Kennedy International Airport in NY in preparation for potential attacks as well as IDF military attaches in NY.
A statement from United States authorities said that the two men attempted to provide support to "Hezbollah's Islamic Jihad organization" after receiving weapons and bomb-making training from the group in Lebanon.
El Debek's missions in Panama included locating USA and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy and locating hardware stores where explosive materials could be purchased.
New York Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill noted that "pre-operational surveillance is one of the hallmarks of Hezbollah in planning for future attacks".
The Justice Department alleges that el Debek and Kourani worked as spies for IJO, both in the US and overseas. From 2008 through 2104, the terror group taught him how to make bombs, handle weapons and conduct surveillance and countersurveillance.
The government is alleging that el Debek traveled to Panama, where he scouted the American and Israeli embassies.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said the men were involved in "pre-operational surveillance" in NY. Kourani was arrested in the Bronx on numerous terrorism charges and also faces up to life in prison if convicted. 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", the DOJ said.
Hizballah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components and its mission includes establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon.
Between November 2014 and February 2017, El Debek, who received religious training from Hezbollah, conducted more than 250 Facebook searches using search terms such as "martyrs of the holy defense", "martyrs of Islamic resistance", "Hezbollah martyrs" and "martyrs of the Islamic resistance in Lebanon".