Federal prosecutors have charged a New Jersey man with taking photos of U.S. landmarks for Hezbollah in order to help them carry out an attack on U.S. soil.
Here's what we know
Alexei Saab from Morristown, New Jersey, reportedly joined Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1996. Prosecutors said that during this time his job was to inform Hezbollah about "the movements of Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers in Yaroun, Lebanon."
In 2000, he entered the U.S. through legal means. After applying in 2005, he became a naturalized citizen in 2008.
But even while Saab was becoming a U.S. citizen, he allegedly never lost touch with Hezbollah. In fact, according to the federal charges, he went back to Lebanon to train some more. He also began casing U.S. landmarks as possible targets for attack.
In a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers explained:
According to the allegations, while living in the United States, Saab served as an operative of Hizballah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States. 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.
These locations included "the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and local airports, tunnels, and bridges" in New York City. He also "conducted similar intelligence gathering in a variety of large American cities, including Washington D.C."
Prosecutors said Saab especially focused on "focused on the structural weaknesses of locations he surveilled in order to determine how a future attack could cause the most destruction."
What penalties could Saab face?
If convicted, Saab, 42, could by sentenced to up to 100 years in prison for charges including "providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization," "conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization," and "receiving military-type training from a designated foreign terrorist organization."
While most of the charges carry penalties of five or 10 years, one, "unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization to facilitate an act of international terrorism," has a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.