Alexei Saab is a New Jersey naturalized citizen who is accused by the U.S. government of scouting prominent targets for Hezbollah in New York, Boston and Washington D.C., including the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Fenway Park and the White House.
The unsealed complaint says that Alexei Saab, who is in federal custody, is also known as Ali Hassan Saab, Alex Saab, and Rachid. It says the case is before a magistrate judge in the Southern District of New York.
It alleges that, from 1996 through March 2019, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, Saab helped provide “material support or resources” to a “designated foreign terrorist organization.” That organization is listed in the complaint as “Hizballah,” sometimes called Hezbollah, which “was designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization.” Hizballah “engages and has engaged in terrorism,” the government says.
Saab and others “knowingly” provided Hizballah with “tangible and intangible property, services, expert advice and assistance, and personnel (including Saab),” the complaint says.
You can read the full indictment into Alexei Saab here. Read the formerly sealed complaint here. Essentially, the government is accusing Saab of acting as a Hezbollah “scout,” and sort of a one-man sleeper cell who was also in a fraudulent marriage.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Saab Was Accused of Conducting Surveillance at High-Profile Landmarks & Designations, Like Rockefeller Center & the Empire State Building
Alexei Saab, 42, was living in Morristown, New Jersey. He was charged in a nine-count indictment, allegedly “for offenses related to his support for Hizballah and separate marriage-fraud offenses.”
While living in the United States, Saab, acting for Hizballah, “surveilled dozens of locations in New York City—including the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and local airports, tunnels, and bridges—and provided detailed information on these locations, including photographs, to the IJO,” which is a branch of Hizballah, the government contends.
At one point, Saab indicated he was on autopilot to collect intelligence at any opportunity and would take photos with dual purpose, both as a tourist and to provide the information back to the group, the indictment claims.
He was told to prepare a detailed guide to New York. In Boston, he took photos of Quincy Market and the Prudential Center, among other sites. In Washington D.C., he photographed the Capitol Building, Congress, and the White House, according to the indictment.
In New York, he surveilled the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Grand Central Terminal, the New York Stock Exchange, 26 Federal Plaza, and local airports, the indictment further alleges.
“In particular, Saab focused on the structural weaknesses of locations he surveilled in order to determine how a future attack could cause the most destruction,” the indictment contends. “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. Saab conducted similar intelligence gathering in a variety of American cities. he FBI recovered photographs from Saab’s electronic devices reflecting his surveillance activities, including photographs of New York City landmarks.”
“According to the allegations, while living in the United States, Saab served as an operative of Hizballah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, in a Department of Justice news release. “Such covert activities conducted on U.S. soil are a clear threat to our national security and I applaud the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and prosecution.”
“As a member of the Hizballah component that coordinates external terrorist attack planning, Alexei Saab allegedly used his training to scout possible targets throughout the U.S,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.
2. Saab Was a Naturalized American Citizen Now Accused of Marriage Fraud But His True Allegiance Was to the Terrorist Organization, The Government Alleges
Alexei Saab was a naturalized United States citizen. But that hid his true loyalties, the government says. In 2000, the government says, Saab “lawfully entered the United States using a Lebanese passport,” the government says. “In August 2008, Saab became a naturalized U.S. citizen.” He falsely affirmed that he was not associated with a terrorist organization at that time, the indictment states.
The marriage fraud accusations stems from the government’s belief that Saab was paid to marry another person in order to get that person citizenship.
In July 2012, Saab “married another individual (CC-1) so that CC-1 could apply for naturalized citizenship in the United States based on their marriage,” the release says. “On March 13, 2015, Saab and CC-1 jointly filed a petition seeking to obtain naturalized citizenship for CC-1. In doing so, Saab and CC-1 falsely claimed under penalty of perjury that their marriage was “not for the purpose of procuring an immigration benefit.” The indictment says he was paid to marry for this purpose. Saab married a French citizen who entered the U.S. under the visa waiver program by obtaining an F1 student visa to attend college in Manhattan.
“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. Thankfully, Saab is now in federal custody, and faces significant prison time for his alleged crimes,” Berman said in a news release.
The government says that Hizballah “is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components. Hizballah was founded in the 1980s with support from Iran after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and its mission includes establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon.”
The group has been responsible for terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of people, including United States citizens and military personnel. Hizballah has been a designated terrorist organization since 1997.
3. Authorities Say That Saab Was an Operative in IJO, Which Is a Terrorist Arm of Hizbollah & He Was Once Questioned at the Airport After Explosives Were Detected on His Luggage
The indictment alleges that Saab was recruited to be part of The Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO), “which is also known as the External Security Organization and ‘910.’” It is “a component of Hizballah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hizballah outside of Lebanon.”
According to the release, “In 2000, Saab transitioned to membership in Hizballah’s unit responsible for external operations, the IJO, and he then received extensive training in IJO tradecraft, weapons, and military tactics, including how to construct bombs and other explosive devices.”
Other IJO operatives have been involved in some very high-profile incidents, the government wrote, including the bus explosion that killed Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, and more.
Authorities had made other arrests, nabbing an operative who was scouting out “Israeli targets in Cyprus in 2012,” and seizing bomb-making precursor chemicals in Thailand in 2012. Two alleged operatives were also previously arrested in the United States.
Training involved an AK-47, M16 rifle, and pistol. The indictment says that a handler provided Saab with a “method of electronic communication” to reach him in the United States. If Hizballah needed him to return to Lebanon, he would receive an email that would appear to be spam but would contain a coded signal. He was also given a phone number with a numeric code.
When going to training sessions, he would be picked up by a white van with blacked out windows. The trainees were separated in the classroom by partitioned cubicles and used fictitious names.
Among their techniques, he was trained, when taking surveillance videos, to start by recording something else before panning to the object of surveillance. He would pose people in pictures with the true object of surveillance in the background.
As part of his explosives training, Saab was given photos showing the scene of the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, and was told to analyze the photos to determine things like the size type and triggering mechanism of explosive used.
In 2005, he flew through Turkey back to the U.S. and was stopped and interviewed at the airport “due to the detective of an explosive substance on his luggage or clothing.” He had just completed his explosives training.
That same year, when he arrived at John F. Kennedy airport in New York, he was interviewed by law enforcement and acknowledged that Turkish authorities had interviewed him about the discovery of explosive traces on his luggage, but he denied any knowledge of why his luggage would test positive.
4. Saab Joined Hizballah in 1996 When He Was a College Student & Received Training in Weaponry & Tradecraft, the Government Alleges
Saab joined Hizballah in 1996, says the indictment. Saab was recruited when he was a member of the Hizballah student organization at the University of Lebanon. He was introduced to a handler during a study group.
“Saab’s first Hizballah operation occurred in Lebanon, where he was tasked with observing and reporting on the movements of Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers in Yaroun, Lebanon. Among other things, Saab reported on patrol schedules and formations, procedures at security checkpoints, and the vehicles used by soldiers,” according to the indictment.
He was subsequently tapped for training by the group, the government alleges. In one seven year span, he went to Lebanon 10 times, the indictment says.
“In approximately 1999, Saab attended his first Hizballah training. The training focused on the use of firearms, and Saab handled and fired an AK-47, an M16 rifle, and a pistol, and threw grenades…In 2004 and 2005, Saab attended explosives training in Lebanon during which he received detailed instruction in, among other things, triggering mechanisms, explosive substances, detonators, and the assembly of circuits.”
5. The Government Accuses Saab of Conducting Operations for Hizballah Overseas, Including the Attempted Murder of a Possible Israeli Spy
Saab undertook dangerous and illegal operations overseas for the terrorist group, the government says.
“For example, Saab attempted to murder a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy,” the release says. “Saab pointed a firearm at the individual at close range and pulled the trigger twice, but the firearm did not fire. Saab also conducted intelligence-gathering for Hizballah in Istanbul, Turkey.”
Saab is facing multiple charges that carry dozens of years in potential prison sentences.