Sending our military to rebuild Afghanistan while bringing in record numbers of unvetted immigrants from similar Islamic countries is a maniacal betrayal of the lesson of 9/11. Case in point: Alexei Saab.
Yesterday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of Alexei Saab, a Lebanese immigrant living in Morristown, New Jersey, on multiple terrorism-related charges and naturalization fraud. He is accused of surveilling and scouting iconic landmarks and transportation hubs in Washington, Boston, and New York City last decade for Hezbollah. The complaint alleges that he trained with Hezbollah in Lebanon in military tactics, firearms, and bomb-making at the highest levels before and after he came to America.
“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,” wrote the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. “SAAB’s reporting to the IJO included the materials used to construct a particular target, how close in proximity one could get to a target, and site weaknesses or ‘soft spots’ that the IJO could exploit if it attacked a target in the future.”
Saab was arrested on July 9, but the formal complaint from the FBI wasn’t unsealed until yesterday.
According to the 33-page complaint, Saab trained with Hezbollah from 1996 to 2000 and conducted missions inside Lebanon that included fighting against Israelis. Then in 2000, the same year he came to America on an unspecified visa category, he was upgraded to the “Islamic Jihad Organization,” which is commonly referred to as “Unit 910.” That is the unit responsible for intelligence and counterintelligence operations outside Lebanon, as well as planning attacks on Western targets. In other words, he likely came here specifically for this purpose.
How he was given a visa is beyond understanding, but at least we can chalk that up to being pre-9/11. But the bigger question is how none of his 10 reported trips back to Lebanon working with Hezbollah were scrutinized during the vetting when he applied for naturalization between 2005 and 2008.
Saab came in on a visa on November 10, 2000, applied for naturalization on December 6, 2005, and became a naturalized citizen on August 26, 2008. It was a very efficient use of his time here, naturalizing at the first possible moment. It is a known hallmark of Unit 910 to use people who could access our immigration system easily, often those with relatives here who are brought in on family visa (chain migration) categories.
During 2004 and 2005, Saab went back to Lebanon to attend intensive courses on bomb-making. The complaint contains numerous pictures the FBI seized from Saab that he had taken of places such as bridges in NYC, the Washington Monument, the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and Fenway Park. These pictures were used by Saab in his intelligence presentation to his Unit 910 handler in Lebanon in 2003. He also worked in Lebanon in 2005 on an attempted murder plot against a suspected Israeli spy. He is also accused of engaging in marriage fraud in 2012 to help secure citizenship for an unnamed woman who came in from France on the visa waiver program (a loophole that needs to be fixed).
Consider the fact that over 60,000 Lebanese immigrants have been granted green cards since 2001. There is no clear data on how many were Shiite Muslims and how many were Maronite Christians. A total of 2.2 million from Islamic countries have been given green cards, and a similar number have been given long-term visas. How many more of these terrorist operatives did we let in because we clearly do not have proper vetting standards at the visa level, the green card level, or the naturalization level? Last year, Todd Bensman, a former intel and counterterrorism official, wrote a three-part series on the threat of Unit 910 operatives immigrating here in light of the trials of Samer El Debek in Michigan and Ali Kourani in New York, who both had backgrounds and Hezbollah training similar to Saab’s.
One would assume that by now we have ramped up vetting of Lebanese passports as Hezbollah expands its global reach. But for the same reason Trump has banned visas from Iran, he needs to do the same for Lebanon, which is essentially run by Iran’s foreign fighting force. He could easily grant narrow waivers for Maronite Christians who are fleeing the region.
Policymakers need to realize that the front line in the war on terror is in our immigration system for future threats and in our homeland security apparatus for those who are already here. We now face a perilous time as Iranian mullahs are increasingly desperate, almost in the death throes of their power. They have no way of winning a real military fight with us in the Middle East. What they do have is Unit 910 operatives in this country who are extremely well trained to strike almost anywhere in the country.
Last July, after Trump reinstated sanctions on Iran, Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), warned, “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.” They don’t just mean their operation in Latin America. They mean their countless operatives in our own country thanks to years of an immigration system that placed the whims of chain migration ahead of the security of Americans. Our enemies don’t defeat us on the battlefield; they use our own suicidal policies against us.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.