An American software developer is in court this week accused of being a military-trained “sleeper agent” for Hezbollah that scoped out targets for terror attacks.
Alexei Saab, 45, from New Jersey, is standing trial after a nine-count indictment was unsealed against him in Manhattan in September 2019. He was initially arrested that July and underwent 11 sessions of questioning with the FBI.
During the first trial session on Monday, the court heard that Saab had volunteered a significant amount of information against himself during interrogation. By his own admission, the FBI said, Hezbollah “had trained Saab so that his mindset was that he should always be gathering intelligence… including while he was in New York City.
“Saab explained that he would often take photographs that had a dual purpose, both as a tourist… and to send back for intelligence gathering.”
Formerly known as “Ali Hassan Saab” and “Rachid” and originally from Lebanon, the defendant was recruited at Lebanon University in 1996.
The indictment also says he underwent extensive surveillance, firearms and explosives training with Hezbollah in the late 1990s. It also includes drawings Saab did for the FBI of three types of explosive he learned how to make.
Between 2000 and 2005 he was said to have worked covertly abroad for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization, looking for popular landmarks to target in the event that the US ever attacked Iran.
Apart from key sites in Boston, Washington and New York, Saab also allegedly scouted locations for potential bombings in France, Turkey and the Czech Republic.
In or around 2005, he attempted to kill “a person he came to believe was an Israeli spy” in Lebanon. He told the FBI he was driven to a field outside Beirut and instructed to shoot the driver of a nearby vehicle. But the firearm he had pointed at them at close range jammed.
Images taken from the defendant’s phone suggested he had been to at least one Hezbollah rally in Lebanon attended by the terror group’s current secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah.
Assistant US Attorney Samuel Adelsberg said: “On paper, he lived a normal life when in reality he was a sleeper agent for Hezbollah.”
Saab also admitted to the FBI that as emails and WhatsApp messages on his phone indicated, he had more recently been paid $20,000 to fraudulently marry an unnamed French national so they could naturalize as a US citizen.
Defense lawyer Marlon Kirton said all the evidence in the case was from Saab himself and therefore could not be considered reliable. So far, he said, Hezbollah was not known to have attacked Americans on US soil.