A New Jersey software developer was a “sleeper agent” for an Islamic terror group and planned to carry out attacks on famous sites if Iran was bombed, prosecutors say.
Alexei Saab, 45, of Morristown, worked for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IOJ) from 2000 to 2005 as a “terrorist and spy” scouting for potential terror targets in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and abroad, his trial was announced on Monday.
Prosecutors allege Saab worked daily for technology companies as an engineer, maintaining the appearances of a “normal” US citizen. But, at night, he reportedly gathered intelligence information on national monuments, tunnels and bridges, and photographed his potential targets.
“On paper he was leading a normal life when in reality he was a sleeper Hezbollah agent,” Assistant US Attorney Sam Adelsberg said in his opening statements.
Saab has pleaded not guilty to charges including material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy, military-style training provided by a foreign terrorist organization, unlawfully obtaining citizenship to facilitate international terrorism, and fraudulent citizenship application.
He also faces a fraudulent marriage charge for marrying a co-conspirator in 2012 under false pretences. Saab’s lawyer did not contest this accusation.
The most serious charge carries a maximum potential sentence of 25 years in prison, although the charges collectively carry potential sentences of over 100 years in prison.
Alexei Saab, 45, reportedly had a dual identity as a ‘sleeper agent’ for an Islamic terror group and planned to carry out attacks on famous US landmarks if Iran were to be bombed
“He was sent by Hezbollah to set up a sleeper cell right here in this city,” Adelsberg told the jury at the Manhattan federal courthouse on Monday, according to the New York Post.
Saab was arrested in July 2019 after being questioned in 11 sessions over several weeks with FBI agents.
In court documents, investigators said Saab told officers he took photos of buildings and locations, including Quincy Market and the Prudential Center in Boston and the Capitol Building, Congress and the White House in Washington. , DC.
Adelsberg Saab searched for many targets, including Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, the three New York area airports, the Brooklyn, Triborough and George Washington bridges and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels linking New Jersey with Manhattan, among others.
A video of the Fenway Park baseball stadium in Boston was also recovered from one of Saab’s electronic devices.
The prosecution alleged that as part of its work for the IJO, Saab would determine if locations had “weak spots” that the organization could exploit to cause the most damage if it attacked a target.
He also said in interviews with investigators that he was ‘on autopilot to gather intelligence at any opportunity’ and would capture footage as both a tourist and a group agent, according to his act. of accusation.
Saab is said to have spotted potential terror targets in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. The photo he took identifying the US Capitol building as a potential target is shown
He reportedly gathered information on national landmarks, tunnels and bridges and photographed his potential targets. A photograph he took for the IJO of New York’s Feorge Washington Bridge is shown
Saab’s lawyer, Marlon Kirton, said all evidence in the case came from Saab itself and could not be considered reliable.
Kirton also noted that there was “no evidence to date that Hezbollah has attacked people here in America.”
Besides surveillance activities in the United States, Adelsberg said Saab also operated overseas after joining Hezbollah in 1996.
He said Saab attempted to kill a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy by pointing a gun at the individual at close range, but the gun jammed.
The alleged attempted murder took place in Turkey in 2005.
Saab’s IJO training also highlighted how to take surveillance footage in an unsuspecting manner, including having people pose for photos in front of the surveillance object, as shown above.
A video of Fenway Park was also recovered from one of Saab’s electronic devices. Officials believe the Boston Sports Center was a potential target
According to his indictment, Saab was recruited by the IJO as a “component of Hezbollah responsible for planning and coordinating intelligence, counterintelligence and terrorist activities on behalf of Hezbollah outside Lebanon”. .
He reportedly joined in 1996 when he was a member of the Hezbollah student organization at the University of Lebanon. He was introduced to an IJO manager during a study group.
However, he later transitioned to a role in overseas operations and “received extensive training in IOJ military craft, weapons and tactics, including how to build bombs and other explosive devices. “.
His training also highlighted how to take unsuspecting surveillance footage, including having people pose for photos in front of the object of surveillance.
Saab received extensive training in IJO military craft, weapons and tactics, including how to build bombs and other explosive devices
In November 2000, he “legally entered the United States using a Lebanese passport” and became a naturalized American citizen in August 2008.
At that time, he falsely claimed that he was not associated with the terrorist organization, the indictment states.
Saab, who most recently served as chief information officer for waste management company Covanta, also taught as an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College in New York.
According to his LinkedIn account, he started teaching at the college in 2016 and offered courses to master’s students in “IT Strategy for Managers” and “Business and Data Modeling.”
It is unclear when he stopped working at Baruch College or Covanta as his profile has not recently been updated.
Additionally, while living in the United States, Saab was allegedly paid to marry in an effort to obtain US citizenship for his wife.
He reportedly married a French citizen in July 2012 and “filed a petition seeking naturalization” for his wife in March 2015. The wife reportedly entered the United States on a student visa to attend college in Manhattan.
Her lawyer did not contest the charges related to her alleged fraudulent marriage.