NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor told jurors in an opening statement Monday that a New Jersey software developer was actually a highly trained terrorist scoping out U.S. landmarks for attack from 2000 to 2005.
Alexei Saab, 45, of Morristown, New Jersey, had a double identity while he worked for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization, ready to attack Americans at popular locations if Iran was attacked by the U.S., said Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Adelsberg.
By day, Saab was a software engineer working for technology companies who fit in enough that he became a U.S. citizen, the prosecutor said.
By night, he was “a terrorist and spy” scoping out potential terrorism targets in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and abroad in France, Turkey and the Czech Republic, Adelsberg said.
Saab was arrested in July 2019 after being questioned during 11 sessions over several weeks with FBI agents.
Saab’s lawyer, Marlon Kirton, said all the evidence in the case was from Saab himself and could not be considered reliable.
And he noted that Hezbollah had never attacked Americans in the United States.
In court documents, investigators said 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. A video of Fenway Park was recovered from one of Saab’s electronic devices.
Adelsberg said the targets researched by Saab included Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, all three New York area airports, the Brooklyn, Triborough and George Washington bridges and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels connecting New Jersey to Manhattan, among other locations.
“On paper, he lived a normal life when in reality he was a sleeper agent for Hezbollah,” he said.
Besides surveillance activities in the United States, Adelsberg said Saab also operated abroad after joining Hezbollah in 1996. He said Saab tried to kill a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy by pointing a weapon at the individual at close range, but the firearm jammed.
Saab is also facing a marriage fraud charge for allegedly marrying a co-conspirator in 2012 under false pretenses. Saab’s lawyer did not contest that charge.
Saab has pleaded not guilty to charges including providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy, receiving military-type training from a foreign terrorist organization, unlawful procurement of citizenship to facilitate international terrorism and citizenship application fraud.
The most serious charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 25 years in prison, though the charges collectively carry potential penalties of over 100 years in prison.