Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Hezbollah operative arrested in US for scouting terror attack sites

New York prosecutors say Alexei Saab sent information back to Lebanon

Alexei Saab was indicted for scouting possible targets for terror attacks including he United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. AFP
Alexei Saab was indicted for scouting possible targets for terror attacks including he United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. AFP

A Lebanese-US citizen has been accused of scouting sites, including the UN headquarters in New York and buildings in Boston and Washington, to help Hezbollah plot terrorist attacks.

Alexei Saab, 42, worked for the Islamic Jihad Organisation, Hezbollah's foreign operations wing, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Saab was the subject of a 33-page indictment filled with testimony from the FBI agents who tracked him.

He is accused of taking photographs and preparing information that was sent to his handlers in Lebanon, said documents unsealed by the US Justice Department in the Southern District of New York.

And the charges say Saab, of Morristown, New Jersey, had been active for Hezbollah, which has been designated by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation, since 1996. He was arrested in July.

He is facing nine criminal counts relating to his surveillance of tourist sites and busy public places such as airports, sporting stadiums and bridges.

Saab is also accused other charges, including immigration fraud after a sham marriage for which he was paid.

He provided photographs of possible US targets as far back as 2003, including the home of the UN, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and Wall St.

Saab travelled to the US capital, taking photographs of the Washington Monument, and Boston, where the Fenway Stadium home of the city's Red Sox baseball team, was among the places he listed.

Also known as Ali Hassan Saab and Rachid, he received weapons training and was shown how to plan and carry out explosions.

In 2005, he travelled to Istanbul and tried to gun down a man he believed to be an Israeli spy, court documents based on FBI surveillance and evidence from confidential informants showed.

Prosecutors said Saab's training in explosives included making “sticky bombs” shortly after the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafic Hariri, in February 2005.

He and other recruits were given photos of the site of the massive truck bomb attack that killed the politician and 21 others in Beirut, and they were asked to analyse the type of explosive used and how the blast had occurred.

A UN tribunal into the killing of Mr Hariri, whose son Saad is now prime minister, began the trial of four Hezbollah operatives in their absence at The Hague in 2014.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah refused to hand the suspects over. Closing arguments were held last year and a verdict is expected next month.

Updated: September 21, 2019 08:31 PM

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