NEW YORK – A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced to 12 years in prison a man linked to the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah.
A New Jersey-based software developer, Lebanese-born Alexei Saab, 46, had reportedly photographed American landmarks for possible attacks, according to prosecutors.
He was arrested in 2019 on suspicion of ties to Hezbollah and was labeled a highly skilled terrorist.
The prosecutors said he was acting as a sleeper cell waiting to take action in the event of a conflict between Iran and the U.S.
To prepare, they said, he took photographs and did research on weak points in the U.S.
He photographed the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, the Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, and airports, bridges, and tunnels in New York alone.
However, the jury did not convict him on the charge of being member of a terrorist organization.
He was convicted of receiving military training from the Hezbollah organization, conspiring to commit marriage fraud, and making false statements.
He was acquitted of three other charges. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year prison sentence for Saab.
The judge, Paul G. Gardephe, said the defendant had cooperated with authorities. He said the facts of the case indicate that the defendant Saab is no longer a danger to the community. The judge also said the defendant had become a model prisoner by helping other inmates in New York City’s federal prisons.
Saab had become a U.S. citizen in 2005 and earned two master’s degrees. Defense attorney Marlon Kirton had said in court that his client had transformed after his arrival in America. He had begun to experience the feeling of true freedom.