The case of terrorist informant Ali Kourani’s unprotected confession to the FBI
Ali Kourani learned this the hard way that anything you say can be used against you.
By all accounts, it seemed that Kourani had a bright future. Born and raised in Lebanon, he legally immigrated to the United States in 2003 and became a citizen in 2009. He studied biomedical engineering at a New York university and earned an MBA in 2013.
But Federal law enforcement painted a different picture of Kourani. They said that while Kourani was a student, he was recruited by Hezbollah, a radical Lebanese terrorist organization, and that he worked for them as an informant.
A Double Life
Was Kourani a successful young man, working hard towards attaining the American dream, or was he was living in the shadows, performing surveillance and taking notes on office and training locations? Did he communicate specific details about the FBI, Army National Guard, a Secret Service facility, the JFK Airport and the Israeli consulate in New York?
Hezbollah, the FBI said, had first contacted Kourani when he was just 16 years old in Lebanon. He was sent to boot camp and received military training with weapons. At some point in 2008 while Kourani was a US student, Hezbollah reached out to him again, recruiting him to the counterintelligence division. The FBI claims that Kourani made trips to Lebanon at least one time per year over the span of ten years (from 2005-2015) as part of his role to uncover vital details on US targets.
Speaking to the FBI
When the FBI confronted Kourani about his affiliation with Hezbollah, Kourani explained that they had ‘the wrong guy’ and denied any relationship with the foreign organization. He walked out of the interview and refused to speak with the FBI.
But a year later, Kourani changed his mind. He agreed to talk in exchange for leniency and assistance with a personal matter. Toward that end, Kourani retained a law professor as his attorney and met with the feds.
He began to disclose specific details of his relationship with the terror organization on the premise that he’d garner financial support as well as assistance with immigration matters related to his close family members.
Kourani’s Lawyer Makes a Big Mistake
Kourani’s lawyer accompanied him to five meetings with the FBI, where Kourani admitted specific details of his involvement with the terrorist organization, Hezbollah. Specifically, he admitted that he had been a “sleeper operative” for Hezbollah, casing terrorism targets like Kennedy International.
But prior to talking with the FBI, Kourani’s lawyer never asked for a “letter of immunity” or a “proffer agreement,” which are both used to protect people under federal investigation. Because of his lawyer’s mistake, Kourani, who thought he was getting leniency, was actually confessing his criminal activity to the FBI.
Instead of Immunity, Kourani Gets Arrested
Kourani was arrested on federal terrorism charges. Shocked and dismayed, Kourani’s lawyers accused the FBI of tricking their client into providing information which negatively affected his position.
However, agents for the FBI defended its conduct, saying there was never an agreement in place not to charge him. The information he provided was over the course of several meetings and incriminated him in a variety of terrorism schemes. A federal judge heard arguments and found that agents had made no promises to Kourani for the information he provided and that he did so knowingly.
This case highlights the complicated nature of providing information to law enforcement, and the possible pitfalls when law enforcement recruits confidential informants. Although Kourani was represented by an attorney, who is a law school professor from Seton Hall University, he was still led to believe that his statements were protected. His attorney argued that the FBI deceived him despite his willingness to cooperate.
Should you find yourself in a situation where local or Federal law enforcement wants to “just talk,” consider the possible ramifications. Kourani is being held by a judge without bail and is facing a multi-count indictment for terrorism charges.
If you have been approached and asked to make a statement to law enforcement, contact attorney Joe Edwards, a knowledgeable State of Ohio and Federal criminal defense attorney, in practice for over 25 years.