A terror suspect arrested in New York City allegedly scouted locations for possible attacks in various cities, including Boston, where he looked at Fenway Park, the Prudential Center, and Quincy Market, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Alexei Saab, 42, a naturalized US citizen, was charged with offenses related to his support for the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, as well as with marriage-fraud offenses, the office of Geoffrey S. Berman, US attorney for New York’s Southern District, said in a statement.
Saab’s support included taking photos in Boston of the three landmarks, which were among targets of interest to Hezbollah, a complaint filed in the case alleged. Other potential targets in New York and Washington, D.C., were also photographed.
Local officials have said there is no credible threat to Boston.
Other detailed allegations about Saab’s work for Hezbollah involved information-gathering and bomb-making training, according to the complaint.
The authorities also alleged that around 2005, at Hezbollah’s direction, Saab tried to murder a person he came to believe was an Israeli spy in Lebanon, but the gun did not fire.
Federal prosecutors said his close ties to Hezbollah, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization in 1997 and which wants to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Lebanon, date back more than two decades.
The FBI interviewed Saab 11 times from mid-March to early July of this year, according to the federal complaint. In it, an FBI special agent assigned to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force also mentioned a cooperating witness who was a former member of the Islamic Jihad Organization, or IJO, a component of Hezbollah that’s “responsible for the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities . . . outside of Lebanon.”
According to a statement from the FBI Boston Division, the photos acquired during the investigation were taken before 2006 and “are not a result of specific tasking by Hezbollah.”
Both the FBI and Boston police said Thursday that there were no known active or credible threats to the city at the time the photos were taken, and the authorities are not aware of any active or credible threats to Boston.
“The Boston Police Department has been working closely with our law enforcement partners at the FBI to ensure the continued safety of the residents of the city of Boston,” said Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman. “The Boston Police Department has been briefed by the FBI and we have subsequently notified the properties impacted by the information revealed within this indictment as well as their respective security teams of these findings.”
State Police, meanwhile, said in a statement that the governor has a task force that is looking to improve public safety “at large venues, such as arenas and stadiums.’’
Saab, a Morristown, N.J., resident who entered the United States legally in November 2000, was arrested July 9 in New York City, prosecutors said. His indictment was announced Thursday.
It wasn’t immediately clear when Saab would appear in court to face the nine counts, which include conspiracy to provide material support to the terror group, providing material support, conspiracy to receive military training from Hezbollah, receipt of military training from Hezbollah, and unlawful procurement of citizenship or naturalization to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Saab “allegedly was trained by Hizballah’s external terrorist operations component in bomb-making and conducted intelligence-gathering in New York City and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in support of Hizballah’s attack-planning efforts,” prosecutors said. Hizballah is an alternate spelling of Hezbollah.
Saab allegedly joined the group in 1996, and his first Hezbollah operation occurred in Lebanon, “where he was tasked with observing and reporting on the movements of Israeli and Southern Lebanese Army soldiers in Yaroun, Lebanon,” according to federal authorities.
He finished his Hezbollah training, which focused on the use of firearms, around 1999, and in 2000 he transitioned to membership in the IJO, officials said.
As part of that unit, he received training in tradecraft, weapons, and military tactics, including how to construct and detonate bombs and other explosive devices, prosecutors said.
He entered the United States in 2000 using a Lebanese passport, the US attorney’s office said, and five years later “applied for naturalized citizenship and falsely affirmed, under penalty of perjury, that he had never been ‘a member of or in any way associated with . . . a terrorist organization.’”
In August 2008, he became a naturalized US citizen, according to officials, but remained an IJO operative while he was living stateside. Investigators allege he also continued to receive military training in Lebanon and conducted numerous IJO operations.
Federal authorities said he surveilled dozens of locations in New York City – including the United Nations headquarters, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, and airports, tunnels, and bridges — and provided detailed information on these locations, including photographs, to the IJO.