Court papers filed in Saab’s case also show that U.S. officials have gotten significant cooperation from a former member of Saab’s group who was arrested in 2017 and has since pleaded guilty.
Authorities charge that Saab was part of the Islamic Jihad Organization, described as a wing of Hezbollah tasked with “the planning and coordination of intelligence, counterintelligence, and terrorist activities.” Officials said Saab was arrested in July, following several months of FBI interviews in which he allegedly made admissions about his work for Hezbollah.
A lawyer for Saab could not immediately be identified.
Court papers say Saab admitted he had been recruited into Hezbollah as a college student and had received explosives and military training from the group.
Saab first came to the United States in 2000. He became a U.S. citizen in 2008.
“Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hizballah, the terrorist organization responsible for decades of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
In 2003, Saab was allegedly instructed to “to surveil certain ‘hot spots’ in New York City and to report intelligence about them to the Islamic Jihad Organization. Saab then conducted surveillance and intelligence gathering for the IJO of dozens of locations in New York and elsewhere,” including in Washington and Boston, according to court papers.
He was trained to look for “soft spots” in such targets — places where explosives could be placed very close to a target for maximum damage, authorities charge.
“Saab understood that the information he provided to the IJO would be used to calculate the size of a bomb needed to target a particular structure and the ideal location in which to place explosive devices to maximize damage,” according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
Saab produced a seven- to 10-page report to his terrorist handlers that included a map of specific locations and a “detailed summary” of each location, including the U.N. headquarters, Rockefeller Center and the Statue of Liberty, according to the complaint. The FBI said Saab also scouted possible targets in Istanbul.
He is charged with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorist group, unlawful procurement of citizenship to facilitate terrorism and marriage fraud. He faces up to 25 years in prison on the most serious charge.