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Hezbollah-trained explosives expert scouted Times Square, Statue of Liberty, & other targets for terror attacks, feds say

In court papers, an FBI said wrote photos of the George Washington Bridge and other locations were recovered from the accused terror operative. (NJ Advance Media Group/TNS)

A Morristown man trained by Hezbollah scouted possible targets for terror attacks around the country – including the Statue of Liberty, Port Authority Bus Terminal and area airports – and sent the reports back to the militant group, authorities said Thursday.

Federal prosecutors in New York unveiled a nine-count indictment against Alexei Saab, 42, who they said was trained in weapons and explosives by the Iranian-backed organization. He was arrested in July and remained jailed, according to officials.

“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, including U.S. citizens and military personnel,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.

According to authorities, Saab provided information about locations including the United Nations headquarters, Times Square, the George Washington Bridge, a federal building in New York, Fenway Park in Boston and landmarks in Washington, D.C. In court documents, investigators included photos of the prominent sites allegedly taken by Saab and recovered by FBI agents.

“According to the allegations, while living in the United States, Saab served as an operative of Hezbollah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said. “Such covert activities conducted on U.S. soil are a clear threat to our national security and I applaud the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and prosecution.”

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Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996 and was trained to use various firearms and grenades, according to court documents. In 2000, he became a member of the group’s unit tasked with external operations, known as Islamic Jihad Organization, and received training in military tactics and other tradecraft.

The surveillance focused on “structural weaknesses of locations he surveilled in order to determine how a future attack could cause the most destruction,” authorities said.

He faces charges of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, among other offenses.

Saab, who officials said legally entered the country using a Lebanese passport in 2000, was also charged with an unrelated marriage-fraud case to allow an unnamed person to apply for naturalized citizenship in the United States.

The U.S. State Department has called Hezbollah, a Shia Islamic group with political and terror components, the “most technically capable terrorist group in the world” and an ongoing security threat.

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© 2019 NJ Advance Media Group

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