A former sleeper agent for Hezbollah faced trial Monday in one of the many New York City buildings he’s accused of plotting to bomb.
Alexei Saab, 45, allegedly moved to the U.S. in 2000 from Lebanon with a secret mission to apply for citizenship and plan a future attack on behalf of the militant group designated a foreign terrorist organization.
“He posed as a regular guy. He had a job as a software developer,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Adelsberg said in Manhattan Federal Court. “In fact, you’ll learn that on paper the defendant lived a normal life in the United States, when in reality, he was a sleeper agent for Hezbollah who was ready to strike.”
Adelsberg said that the lower Manhattan courthouse, the FBI offices at 26 Federal Plaza, the Empire State Building and Kennedy Airport were among the buildings Saab surveyed while not doing his day job.
Saab’s ultimate mission was to scope out targets so the Islamic network “could kill Americans if America threatened Iran, Hezbollah’s main ally,” Adelsberg said in opening statements to the jury.
The prosecutor said Saab also surveyed buildings in Boston, Washington D.C., and other cities abroad and tried to murder an Israeli spy in the 1990s.
Saab allegedly gathered “details like, how buildings were constructed. How close one could get to a building to plant a bomb as part of an attack. And whether these buildings or landmarks had weaknesses or soft spots Hezbollah could exploit,” Adelsberg said.
“This was information that Hezbollah would use to calculate the size of a bomb needed to attack a particular target — information for determining the ideal location to place that bomb to maximize death and destruction.”
Saab became an American citizen in 2008.
Saab’s lawyer Marlon Kirton said his client had long cut ties with Hezbollah by the time the FBI first approached him. He argued that two federal agents had violated the Morristown, N.J. resident’s rights before his July 2019 arrest, meeting with him at least nine times for candid talks before he realized the threat of prosecution.
The lawyer said Saab had ceased all Hezbollah-related activity and communication in 2005. Kirton said prosecutors would present no evidence his client — or the group itself — ever launched an attack on U.S. soil.
“They haven’t attacked any Americans, people here, any bridges, any tunnels, any synagogues, any Jewish centers. No evidence as of today, from their founding until now, that Hezbollah has attacked people in America,” said Kirton.
Saab is charged with providing support to a terrorist group, citizenship fraud, receiving military training from a terrorist group, fraudulent marriage, and other charges. The most serious charge carries a maximum of 25 years in prison.
The trial continues Tuesday.