NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey man who became a naturalised U.S. citizen in 2008 after lying about his ties to Hezbollah has been indicted on charges he conducted surveillance in New York City and Washington, D.C. to support possible terrorist attacks, federal prosecutors said on Thursday.
The nine-count indictment charges Alexei Saab, 42, of Morristown, with providing material support to Hezbollah, receiving military-type training from the group, and two conspiracy counts.
Saab also faces five immigration-related charges, including over his July 2012 marriage to a woman so that she could obtain citizenship benefits, and who allegedly paid him $20,000 (£15,951.5) in exchange for his agreement to marry her.
Prosecutors said Saab has been detained since his July 9 arrest in Manhattan. His lawyer Marlon Kirton declined to comment.
The U.S. Department of State has designated Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organisation since 1997.
“As a member of the Hizballah component that coordinates external terrorist attack planning, Alexei Saab allegedly used his training to scout possible targets throughout the U.S.,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan said in a statement. “Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hizballah.”
Prosecutors said Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996, initially conducted missions for the group inside Lebanon, and in 2000 transitioned to the Islamic Jihad Organization, a Hezbollah component that conducts activities in other countries.
Saab entered the United States in 2000 using a Lebanese passport, and surveilled dozens of locations there, taking photos and looking for structural weaknesses to help Hezbollah and the IJO “maximize destruction of their targets,” prosecutors said in their complaint.
The New York locations he allegedly scouted included the Empire State Building, Macy’s, the New York Stock Exchange, Rockefeller Center, the Statute of Liberty, Times Square, the United Nations, eight bridges and tunnels, and the three major area airports.
Prosecutors said they also recovered photos from Saab of the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Fenway Park and the Prudential Center in Boston.
Saab faces a maximum prison term of five, 10, 20 or 25 years on each of the various charges.
According to the complaint, Saab has maintained a bedroom at his wife’s apartment, which he has visited nearly every weekend, but they “recently discussed ending their arrangement” because she had yet to receive U.S. citizenship.
The case is U.S. v. Saab, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-mag-06263.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis