Alexei Saab, a 45-year-old software developer who lived in Morristown, must serve just about all of the sentence delivered in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, May 23, because there’s no parole in the federal prison system.
Saab kept up appearances as an ordinary American citizen while working for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization (IJO) from 2000 to 2005, federal prosecutors said.
During that time, Saab scouted out and photographed landmarks such as the George Washington Bridge, Quincy Market in Boston and the White House for possible retaliatory attacks if the U.S. bombed Iran, they said.
"He posed as a regular guy,” Assistant US Attorney Sam Adelsberg told federal jurors of the U.S. Southern District of New York during the 2020 trial. “In reality, he was a sleeper agent for Hezbollah ready to strike."
The FBI arrested Saab in July 2019 after nearly a dozen rounds of questioning over several weeks.
According to a bureau complaint, Saab told the agents he also researched Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the World Trade Center, all three New York area airports, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the Prudential Center in Boston and the nation’s Capitol Building.
He did similar reconnaissance work in France, Turkey and the Czech Republic, the FBI said. Agents also recovered a video of Fenway Park from one of his electronic devices, the complaint on file in Manhattan says.
Saab legally entered the U.S. on a Lebanese passport in 2000 and became a naturalized citizen eight years later, federal authorities said.
He led a double life, they said.
By day, Saab worked for KPMG, Microsoft and as the IT director for a waste management company. He was also an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College in New York City, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Saab had been highly trained by Hezbollah, however, before being assigned to seek “soft spots” that would produce the most damage in an IJO attack, the FBI found.
Saab was taught more than how to operate AK-47s and M16s and build bombs and other explosive devices, agents said. According to the federal complaint, the Lebanese-based terrorist group instructed him to have people pose for photos in front of the dozens of landmarks he visited across the globe so that he wouldn’t draw suspicion.
Saab also was paid $20,000 to marry a French national who entered the country on a student visa in an attempt to obtain American citizenship for her, federal prosecutors said.
The jurors in Manhattan convicted Saab following a two-week trial in May 2020 of:
- receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization;
- making false statements;
- conspiring to commit marriage fraud.
They also acquitted Saab of conspiring to provide material support to Hezbollah, citizenship application fraud and naturalization fraud.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe rejected the government’s request for a 20-year prison sentence on Tuesday.
The judge noted that Saab had by all accounts become a model prisoner, teaching and counseling other inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
In addition to the prison term, Gardephe sentenced Saab to three years of supervised release.
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