US man charged with scouting targets for Hezbollah

The United States designated Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 1997 (AFP Photo/Alex Edelman)

New York (AFP) - A US citizen was charged Thursday with transmitting information to Hezbollah for possible terrorist attacks in the United States, the Justice Department said.

According to prosecutors, 42-year-old New Jersey resident Alexei Saab, who became a naturalized US citizen in 2008, began training in 1999 with Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which the US designated as a terrorist organization in 1997.

Saab became a member of the Hezbollah branch concerned with foreign operations -- such as a 2012 attack on Israeli tourists at an airport in Bulgaria -- and since his 2000 arrival to the US, Saab passed information to the group about possible targets in major American cities, such as New York's Empire State Building, Times Square, bridges, tunnels and airports.

Outside the US, he attempted in 2005 to kill a man suspected of being an Israeli spy, the Justice Department said.

"Alexei Saab allegedly used his training to scout possible targets throughout the US," said New York US Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement.

"Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hezbollah, the terrorist organization responsible for decades of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds," Berman said.

Saab faces nine indictments, including a charge related to supporting a terrorist organization, for which he could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors also accused Saab of entering into a "marriage fraud conspiracy" for the purpose of applying for citizenship for an unidentified spouse in 2012.

Saab could face 25 years in prison if convicted of offenses related to the fraudulent marriage charges.

In May, another American of Lebanese origin, Ali Kourani, was found guilty of supporting Hezbollah attacks and collecting information about the security operations of US airports, including John F. Kennedy in New York.

His sentencing is set for later this month.