Defence lawyer urges exoneration for man labelled a terrorist

Alexei Saab a victim of 'government overreach', lawyer says

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 19: The United Nations (UN) headquarters stands in Manhattan on September 19, 2019 in New York City. A man living in New Jersey has been indicted on charges that he supported the Islamist militant group Hezbollah by scouting possible targets for an attack in the New York area. The suspect, Alexei Saab of Morristown, has been indicted in federal court for scouting locations in the city and sending information back to Lebanon. Locations include the United Nations, Times Square, the Empire State Building and various other locations.   Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

A defence lawyer urged jurors on Tuesday to reject a prosecutor's claims that his client is a terrorist who photographed US landmarks as potential targets, saying the government had not proved anything during a two-week trial.

Lawyer Marlon Kirton said his client, Alexei Saab, is a victim of “a clear case of government overreach”.

He spoke during closing arguments after Assistant US Attorney Jason Richman repeatedly labelled Mr Saab a terrorist, saying he came to the US to scope out potential targets for Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organisation from 2000 to 2005, living a double life as a software engineer.

Alexei Saab is accused of photographing US landmarks for nefarious purposes. Photo: US Department of the Treasury

Among the potential targets researched by Mr Saab were Rockefeller Centre, the UN headquarters, Grand Central Terminal, all three New York area airports, the Brooklyn, Triborough and George Washington bridges and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels connecting New Jersey to Manhattan.

And Mr Richman noted one more target in his argument to convict Mr Saab in Manhattan federal court.

“He sits here in a courtroom, inside a courthouse he once photographed for Hezbollah,” the prosecutor said.

The one-time Morristown, New Jersey, resident pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges after his 2019 arrest, as authorities disclosed that he had been interviewed by FBI agents during 11 sessions over several weeks.

Mr Kirton maintained that Mr Saab was never read his rights as he spoke of events in a manner that produced “uncredible, crazy, unsubstantiated information” that became a large part of the case against him.

The lawyer highlighted a marriage-fraud charge against Mr Saab, in which he reportedly lied repeatedly to immigration authorities.

“That same liar is now telling the truth?” Mr Kirton asked.

He also urged jurors to consider that Hezbollah has never carried out an attack in the US even though prosecutors said Mr Saab was placed here as a “sleeper cell” to prepare for an attack if one became necessary.

Mr Kirton said his client was hardly hiding himself when he was sending emails to others about how to build a bomb.

“They didn't prove anything,” he said.

Prosecutors say Mr Saab joined Hezbollah in 1996 and once tried to kill a man he later understood to be a suspected Israeli spy by pointing a weapon at him at close range, but the firearm jammed.

Charges carrying potential penalties exceeding 100 years in prison include providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation, conspiracy, receiving military-type training from a foreign terrorist organisation, unlawful procurement of citizenship to enable international terrorism and citizenship application fraud.

After closing arguments concluded, Judge Paul G Gardephe read legal instructions to jurors and told them to return on Wednesday morning to begin deliberations.

Updated: May 03, 2022, 10:20 PM