What to Know
- A scout for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah targeted several Boston locations for attack, prosecutors say
- Alexei Saab, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in New Jersey, sent target photos to the Islamic Jihad organization, they allege
- Saab, who has been in custody since July, allegedly joined Hezbollah in 1996 and has extensive firearms and bomb-making training
Photos of key Boston landmarks like Fenway Park, the Prudential Center and Quincy Market were found on a cellphone belonging to a man federal authorities say was an agent of the militant group Hezbollah in the 2000s.
Alexei Saab allegedly had photos or videos of all three locations, along with famous places in New York City and Washington, D.C., according to prosecutors in New York, who unveiled charges against Saab that include providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
He was sending Hezbollah reports with "the composition of particular structures" so Hezbollah and a component organization could "maximize destruction of their targets," according to the complaint.
The latest news from around the state
There were no active plots the United States, however, according to federal law enforcement officials.
The FBI was "not aware of any specific or credible threats to the City of Boston during the time the photos were taken as it relates to this matter," nor are there any current "specific or credible threats" to Boston, a representative for the FBI's Boston office said.
The Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police say they were briefed on the charges but there was never any active threat.
The images were taken before 2006 and weren't specifically ordered by Hezbollah, according to the FBI.
A 33-page complaint, sealed since July 8, includes a variety of photos — taken on a cellphone in 2003 — of sensitive locations taken by Saab around the country.
Examples of the images shared in the federal complaint are grainy, showing the Prudential Center from up close and across the Charles River, and from high up in the building itself. The screenshot of a video of Fenway shows what appears to be an aerial view from beyond right field.
Saab, a 42-year-old New Jersey resident, also allegedly told investigators he recalled taking pictures of Quincy Market. Times Square, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol were among the other targets prosecutors said Saab scouted.
"In particular, (Saab) focused on the structural weaknesses of locations he surveilled in order to determine how a future attack could cause the most destruction," the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
The sites were most likely targeted because they are large venues that hold tens of thousands of people, said homeland security expert and former Massachusetts State Police trooper Todd McGhee.
"This is right out of the al Qaeda and ISIS handbook," he said.
Prosecutors allege the photos were gathered for the benefit of the Islamic Jihad Organization, or IJO, Hezbollah's external terrorism arm. While Hezbollah has never been linked to any terror attacks in the United States, the IJO was behind the bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria that killed six and injured 32. Two other IJO operatives were arrested and charged in the Southern District of New York in 2017.
Saab reported back to the IJO with details of what the alleged targets were constructed of, how close in proximity one could get, and weaknesses or "soft spots" the group could exploit in a potential attack.
Aside from his scouting of locations, Saab also conducted other criminal operations abroad, including the attempted murder of a man he believed to be an Israeli spy, according to prosecutors. He pulled a gun on a man at close range and tried to fire twice, but the weapon malfunctioned.
Saab became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008 but was allegedly a Hezbollah member since 1996. He allegedly has extensive firearms and bomb-making training.
Law enforcement agents executed search warrants on Saab's email accounts in April 2018 and began interviewing him as far back as March 2019, when his New Jersey home was searched and devices containing the images were found.
Saab is currently in federal custody. In addition to the charges related to his support for militant group, Saab also faces unrelated marriage fraud charges. According to the indictment, he was offered $20,000 to marry a woman so that she could get her U.S. citizenship. The pair had recently discussed ending the arrangement because the woman had yet to recieve her citizenship, the criminal complaint read.
If convicted of all the charges he faces, Saab would face spending the rest of his life in prison. Attempts to reach an attorney for Saab were unsuccessful.
NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst contributed to this report.