New Jersey man sent to prison for 12 years over Hezbollah military training

A New Jersey man, Alexei Saab, was sentenced to 12 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his involvement in receiving military-type training from Hezbollah, engaging in marriage fraud, and making false statements.

A New Jersey software developer who prosecutors say photographed landmarks in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., for possible terrorist attacks was sentenced by a federal judge who said it seemed he no longer was a danger.

Alexei Saab

In fact, Judge Paul G. Gardephe noted, Alexei Saab, 46, has become a model prisoner since his 2019 arrest, helping others incarcerated at New York City’s federal jails to get high school equivalency certificates, learn English and find relief from psychological problems.

The sentencing was announced by the Justice Department on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

Saab, aged 46, was convicted by a jury in May 2022 following a two-week trial.

The jury heard prosecutors portray Saab as a highly trained terrorist who scoped out landmarks in the U.S., France, Turkey, and the Czech Republic, and was part of a sleeper cell waiting to activate if Iran was attacked by the United States.

Saab told agents he took photographs of buildings and locations including Quincy Market and the Prudential Center in Boston and the Capitol Building, Congress and the White House in Washington, D.C., according to a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. A video of Fenway Park that authorities say was recovered from one of Saab’s electronic devices was included in the complaint.

Authorities say Saab took surveillance at dozens of locations in New York City, including the United Nations, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building and airports, tunnels and bridges and provided information on those locations to the Islamic Jihad Organization.

But the jury was unable to reach a verdict on a charge of material support for a terrorist group. It convicted him of receiving military-type training from the Hezbollah organization, conspiring to commit marriage fraud and making false statements.

It acquitted the Morristown, New Jersey, resident of three other charges.

At sentencing, the judge also noted that Saab cooperated fully with FBI agents when they asked to interview him in 2019. He was interviewed 11 times over four months, and each time was allowed to go home, the judge said.

He finally was informed of his rights and arrested after his 12th session. He has been jailed ever since.

Gardephe said the “facts and circumstances” suggest Saab was no longer a danger to the community and there was little risk he would commit new crimes.

The judge said there were also “inconvenient facts” against defense arguments that Saab serve no more than a decade in prison.

He noted that Saab, born in poverty-ridden Yaroun, Lebanon, and raised by middle-class parents who were public school teachers, did not stop his affiliation with the Hezbollah organization after he came to the United States in 2000.

Saab took photographs of and researched weak points in U.S. landmarks and provided the information to “one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world,” Gardephe said.

Prosecutors said the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, and airports, bridges and tunnels were among over 40 locations that Saab surveilled in New York alone.

Defense attorney Marlon Kirton wrote in a presentence brief that his client went through a transformation after arriving in America as he “began to experience the feeling of true freedom.”

He said Saab was 23 years old and “loved how Americans lived passionately and fearlessly” and he decided he wanted that for himself. The lawyer portrayed his client as a victim of Hezbollah.

By 2005, he became a U.S. citizen and obtained two master’s degrees. He decided that “while he still feared Hezbollah, he felt safe in the United States, knowing that the organization could not touch him,” Kirton wrote.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components, has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s.

The organization aims to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon and has targeted U.S. citizens and military personnel in its attacks. Recognizing its threat, the U.S. Department of State designated Hezbollah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated Hezbollah a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.

Saab, who joined Hezbollah in 1996, played an active role within the organization. He engaged in operations in Lebanon, where he observed and reported on the movements of Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers.

Saab is also known as Ali Hassan Saab, Alex Saab, and Rachid.

Additionally, he participated in planting an improvised explosive device that injured Israeli soldiers. Saab later received extensive training in Hezbollah’s unit responsible for external operations, the Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO). This training encompassed the use of firearms, bomb-making, and military tactics.

Upon arriving in the United States in 2000, Saab continued his affiliation with the IJO while residing in the country.

He conducted surveillance on various locations in New York City, including prominent landmarks like the United Nations headquarters, Statue of Liberty, and Times Square.

He provided detailed information, including photographs, to the IJO, focusing on structural weaknesses and vulnerabilities that could be exploited for future attacks.

Saab also gathered intelligence in other American cities, such as Boston and Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Saab attempted to murder an individual he believed to be an Israeli spy in 2003 and conducted surveillance abroad in places like Istanbul, Turkey.

In addition to his terrorist activities, Saab entered into a fraudulent marriage in 2012 for immigration-related purposes, falsely affirming the legitimacy of the marriage under penalty of perjury.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York, and Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI Counterterrorism Division made the announcement.

The case was investigated by the FBI and its New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which comprises agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department. The prosecution of the case was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sam Adelsberg and Jason A. Richman, with support from Trial Attorneys Jessica Fender and Alexandra Hughes from the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

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