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Thwarting And Prosecuting Acts Of Terror And ​​​​​​​Enforcing International Sanctions

Thwarting And Prosecuting Acts Of Terror And ​​​​​​​Enforcing International Sanctions

Thursday, December 20, 2018 - 1:00pm EST
Washington, D.C. -- U.S. v. Sayoc Press Conference

Thwarting and Prosecuting Acts of Terror

The Office investigates and prosecutes a full range of threats to national security, domestic and international terrorism, espionage, and large-scale international drug and arms trafficking.   Working closely with the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and other law enforcement partners, prosecutors assigned to the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit have obtained convictions in important national security matters:

  • Covert Hizballah Operative Convicted at Trial:  In May 2019, a jury convicted Ali Kourani for his work as a covert operative for Hizballah’s external attack-planning component, the Islamic Jihad Organization (“IJO”).  The IJO recruited Kourani and provided him with extensive training in tradecraft, weapons, and tactics.  After becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009, Kourani conducted a variety of IJO operations, which he understood to be aimed at preparing for potential future Hizballah attacks.  These covert activities included searching for weapons suppliers in the United States who could provide firearms to support IJO operations; identifying individuals affiliated with the Israeli Defense Force whom the IJO could either recruit or target for violence; and gathering information regarding operations and security at airports in the United States and elsewhere, including JFK International Airport in New York and U.S. military and law enforcement facilities in New York City. Kourani was the first-ever IJO operative convicted at trial in the United States. In December 2019, the Court sentenced Kourani to 40 years’ imprisonment.
  • Prosecution of Mail Bomber:   In November 2018, the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit charged Cesar Sayoc just days after he mailed sixteen packages containing improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) from Florida to public figures in this District and across the country.   Sayoc packed each IED with explosive material and glass shards that would function as shrapnel if the IED exploded.  Sayoc also attached to the outside of each IED a picture of the intended victim marked with a red “X.”  In alphabetical order, Sayoc’s intended victims were former Vice President Joseph Biden, Senator Cory Booker, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CNN, Robert De Niro, Senator Kamala Harris, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama, George Soros, Thomas Steyer, and Representative Maxine Waters.  In March 2019, Sayoc pled guilty to 65 felonies, including use of weapons of mass destruction and interstate mailing of explosives. In August 2019, Sayoc was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
  • Port Authority Bomber Convicted at Trial: In November 2018, Akayed Ullah was convicted at trial for detonating a pipe bomb during rush hour on December 11, 2017, in the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  Inspired by ISIS, Ullah had researched IED construction online and built the device at his Brooklyn residence.  After his arrest, he admitted to law enforcement that he “did it for the Islamic State,” and chose to carry out the attack on a workday because he believed that there would be more people present.  Ullah is awaiting sentence.
  • Chelsea Bomber Sentenced to Multiple Terms of Life Imprisonment: In February 2018, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, the so-called “Chelsea Bomber,” was sentenced to multiple terms of life imprisonment following his trial conviction for his ISIS-inspired plot to detonate powerful explosives in that densely populated Manhattan neighborhood.  On September 17, 2016, Rahimi planted sophisticated pressure-cooker bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey. Two of those bombs detonated – one in Seaside Park, New Jersey, on the course of a charity race to honor the United States Marines, and the other on 23rd Street in Manhattan, sending an explosion through Chelsea.  The Chelsea bomb caused injuries to over 30 people and multimillion-dollar property damage across a 650-foot crime scene.  Less than forty-eight hours later, Rahimi was in law enforcement custody.  The following October 2018, a Manhattan jury convicted him of all eight counts with which he was charged. 
  • Prosecution of Sortionist Bomb Maker:   The Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit investigated and charged Paul Rosenfeld in October 2018. Rosenfeld had purchased pounds of explosive black powder and assembled a bomb in his Tappan, New York basement.   He planned to detonate the device on Election Day 2018, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in order to call attention to “sortition,” a political theory that advocates the random selection of government officials.  Rosenfeld has since pled guilty and been sentenced for explosives offenses.

Enforcing Sanctions

The Office is on the front lines of identifying and prosecuting individuals and entities that violate U.S. and international sanctions. 

  • Seizure of North Korean Ship: In May 2019, the Office announced the first-ever seizure of a North Korean cargo vessel for violating sanctions.  As detailed in the complaint, the “Wise Honest” was one of North Korea’s largest carrier ships and was used to export coal from North Korea and import machinery in violation of U.S. and U.N. sanctions. The vessel was sold at auction on October 7, 2019.
  • Prosecution of Participants in Multi-Billion Dollar Iranian Sanctions Evasion Scheme:  In January 2018, after a five-week trial, a jury convicted Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former Deputy General Manager of International Banking at Halkbank, a major Turkish bank, of participating in a sprawling scheme to illicitly transfer billions of dollars of Iranian oil money in violation of U.S. sanctions.   The proof at trial established not only the existence of the sanctions-evasion scheme, but also that Atilla lied to and deceived U.S. Treasury officials about Halkbank’s activities and its purported compliance efforts in order to avoid subjecting the bank to U.S. sanctions.  Atilla’s conviction followed the guilty plea of Reza Zarrab, a businessman and international gold trader, to participating in the scheme.  Atilla received a sentence of 32 months’ imprisonment.  He has appealed his conviction.  Zarrab presently awaits sentence.  In October 2019, the Office announced charges against Halkbank for its alleged role in facilitating the sanctions-evasion scheme. 
  • French Bank Admits Responsibility for Role in Evading Cuba Sanctions:  In November 2018, the Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit announced criminal charges against Société Générale S.A. and a $1.34 billion resolution with the bank arising out of the processing billions of dollars in illicit funds in connection with credit facilities involving Cuba, in contravention of U.S. law.  Specifically, from approximately 2004 through 2010, Société Générale operated 21 credit facilities that provided significant money flow to Cuban banks, entities controlled by Cuba, and Cuban and foreign corporations for business conducted in Cuba.  Those facilities involved substantial U.S.-cleared payments through U.S. financial institutions, in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Asset Control Regulations promulgated thereunder.  Société Générale agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct by stipulating to the accuracy of an extensive Statement of Facts, pay penalties of approximately $1.34 billion to federal and state prosecutors and regulators, refrain from all future criminal conduct, and implement remedial measures as required by its regulators. The Office agreed to defer prosecution for a period of three years, assuming Société Générale’s continued compliance with the agreement, after which time the Office will seek to dismiss the charges against Société Générale.    

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