A Morristown man was indicted Thursday on charges that he scouted New York landmarks for future attacks by Hezbollah.
Alexei Saab, 42, has been working with the the Lebanon-based terrorist group for more than two decades, according to federal documents.
He allegedly surveilled dozens of locations in New York, including the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and local airports, tunnels, and bridges, as well as sites in Boston and Washington DC.
Authorities say he searched for vulnerabilities that could be attacked for maximum destruction, reporting to the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), a branch of Hezbollah that coordinates terrorist activities outside of Lebanon.
“Saab’s reporting to the IJO included the materials used to construct a particular target, how close in proximity one could get to a target, and site weaknesses or ‘soft spots’ that the IJO could exploit if it attacked a target in the future,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Authorities say Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996 and was tasked with reporting movements of Israeli soldiers in Lebanon. In 1999, he was trained to to use AK-47 and M-16 rifles, pistols and grenades. In subsequent years, the IJO taught him to make explosives, the DOJ said.
Abroad, Saab — who also used the names Ali Hassan Saab, Alex Saab, and Rachid — allegedly attempted to kill a man he thought was an Israeli spy. Twice he pulled the trigger at close range, but the gun did not fire, according to the Justice Department, which said Saab conducted intelligence-gathering missions in Istanbul, Turkey.
Saab lawfully entered the U.S. on a Lebanese passport in 2000, and became a naturalized citizen in 2008. He continued receiving military training in Lebanon during this period, authorities said.
He committed fraud on his citizenship application by not disclosing his ties to Hezbollah, the indictment alleges. Saab further perjured himself by denying he married a woman for the purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for her.
Saab was arrested on July 9.
“Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hizballah, the terrorist organization responsible for decades of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
“Thankfully, Saab is now in federal custody, and faces significant prison time for his alleged crimes,” Berman said.
On LinkedIn, Alex Saab lists himself as a director of information technology at Covanta, with degrees in engineering, computer systems and business management from Baruch College and the Lebanese University.
Covanta representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
The nine-count indictment includes multiple terrorism-related charges, and charges of citizenship application- and naturalization fraud.