Hezbollah bunker (IDF photo)

Explosives Expert Who Staked Out Times Square, Other New York Landmarks, Previously Planted Bomb in Israel

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Alexei Saab was convicted in the U.S. of charges stemming from his involvement with Hezbollah

A Lebanese man who staked out key New York landmarks and who previously planted a bomb in Israel was convicted of charges related to his membership in Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist group.

Explosives expert Alexei Saab was found guilty in May 2022 of receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization; marriage fraud conspiracy;  and making false statements, the U.S. Justice Department said.

READ MORE about plans by other terrorists to bomb western targets

“The evidence at trial showed that Saab surveilled some of New York’s most iconic and highly trafficked locations, such as the U.N. headquarters, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and local airports, tunnels, and bridges— in order to provide critical intelligence on how they could be most effectively attacked,” according to U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “Saab’s chilling campaign against the American ideals of liberty and freedom has thankfully come to an end.”

What is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah is a Lebanon-based Shia Islamic organization with political, social, and terrorist components.  Hezbollah 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.  Since Hezbollah’s formation, the organization has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including United States citizens and military personnel. 

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 In 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated Hezbollah a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it remains so designated today.  

The Islamic Jihad Organization (“IJO”), which is also known as the External Security Organization and “910,” is a component of Hezbollah responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities on behalf of Hezbollah outside of Lebanon.  In July 2012, an IJO operative detonated explosives on a bus transporting Israeli tourists in the vicinity of an airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, which killed six people and injured 32 others.  

Law enforcement authorities have disrupted several other IJO attack-planning operations around the world, including the arrest of an IJO operative surveilling Israeli targets in Cyprus in 2012, the seizure of bomb-making precursor chemicals in Thailand in 2012, and a seizure of similar chemicals in May 2015 in connection with the arrest of another IJO operative.  In June 2017, two IJO operatives were arrested in the United States and charged with terrorism-related offenses in the Southern District of New York.  In May 2019, a jury convicted one of those two IJO operatives on all counts, and in December 2019, he was sentenced principally to a prison term of 40 years. 

Who is Alexei Saab?

Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996. His first Hezbollah operations 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.  Saab also, alongside his brother, planted an improvised explosive device that detonated and hit Israeli soldiers, seriously injuring at least one.

In approximately 1999, Saab attended his first Hezbollah training.  The training was focused on the use of firearms, and Saab handled and fired an AK-47, an M16 rifle, a pistol, and threw grenades.  In 2000, Saab transitioned to membership in Hezbollah’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 and detonate bombs and other explosive devices and how to best use these devices in attacks. Specifically, Saab received detailed instruction in, among other things, triggering mechanisms, explosive substances, detonators, and the assembly of circuits. 

In 2000, Saab entered the United States.  While living in the United States, Saab remained an IJO operative, continued to receive military training in Lebanon, and conducted numerous operations for the IJO.  For example, Saab 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.  

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.  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 large American cities, including Boston and Washington, D.C.   Saab also was tasked by Hezbollah with opening a front company that he could use to obtain fertilizer in the United States for use as an explosives precursor.

In addition to his attack-planning activities in the United States, Saab conducted operations abroad.  For example, in or about 2003, Saab attempted to murder a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy. Saab pointed a firearm at the man at close range and pulled the trigger twice, but the weapon did not fire.  Saab also conducted surveillance in Istanbul, Turkey, and elsewhere.

Finally, in or about 2012, Saab entered into a fraudulent marriage in exchange for $20,000. The purpose of the marriage was for Saab’s purported wife to apply for her citizenship. Saab later falsely affirmed, under penalty of perjury, and in connection with his purported wife’s efforts to obtain status in the United States, that the marriage was not for any immigration-related purposes. 

Saab, 44, of Morristown, New Jersey, was convicted this month of one count of receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization, which carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Saab was acquitted of one count of conspiracy to provide material support to Hezbollah, one count of citizenship application fraud, and one count of naturalization fraud. 

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