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Hezbollah Fundraiser Sentenced to Prison

Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, an illegal Lebanese immigrant, gets 41/2 years. He says he thought the money was going to help orphans.

June 15, 2005|From Associated Press

DETROIT — An illegal immigrant from Lebanon was sentenced Tuesday to 4 1/2 years in prison for conspiring to raise money for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which the United States has designated a terrorist group.

Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, 34, pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to support a terrorist organization. Kourani was accused of hosting fundraising meetings at his home in suburban Detroit in 2002 at which a Hezbollah representative spoke.

He faced up to 15 years, but a plea deal called for him to receive no more than five.

Federal prosecutors said Kourani was a fighter, recruiter and fundraiser for Hezbollah, operating in Lebanon and the United States. Prosecutors said his brother, Haidar, was chief of military security for the group in southern Lebanon and directed Kourani's U.S. activities.

"Hezbollah pays attention to these kinds of cases," prosecutor Kenneth Chadwell said. "The message, your honor, should be: 'Don't come here.' "

Breaking into tears several times, Kourani apologized for his actions and asked to be allowed to return as soon as possible to his family in Lebanon.

"I didn't mean to commit any crime," he told the judge through an Arabic translator, saying he believed the money was going to help orphans. "I ask your honor to let me go and see my children."

One of his sons has bone cancer and the other a heart condition, Kourani said.

The government said Kourani paid a Mexican consular official in Beirut $3,000 for a visa to enter Mexico, then sneaked across the U.S.-Mexican border in 2001 and settled in Dearborn, the center of Michigan's Arab American community of about 300,000.

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