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From Osama bin Laden to Iranian 'sleeper cells:' NYPD's John Miller has tracked terror threats for years

Posted: 8:43 PM, Jan 06, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-06 20:43:33-05

NEW YORK — John Miller was a network television correspondent when he interviewed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin laden in the caves of Afghanistan.

More than twenty years later, Miller is the NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism, charged with assessing and preventing terror threats to 8.6 million New Yorkers.

Last week, when a United States drone killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Miller already knew the general’s history of using “proxies:" terror groups and militias who could wage a “shadow” war against Iran’s enemies.

“He was one of the masters of it,” Miller said of General Soleimani, as the Deputy Commissioner spoke to PIX11 inside the NYPD’s Joint Operations Center, located at One Police Plaza.

Miller also talked about three men police discovered who were tied to New York/New Jersey “sleeper cells” affiliated with Hezbollah, the Iranian-controlled terrorist organization.

“Alexei Saab was a software engineer,” Miller said, referring to a New Jersey man arrested last June at a West Side hotel.

Miller said Saab was “working as a subcontractor on large contracts, big-name companies, but he fit right in.”

“Having a normal job, living in the suburbs, living a normal life, but the entire time he was here, he was looking at every landmark, every government target,” Miller said.

Saab allegedly had videos of places, including Boston’s Fenway Park and the Washington Monument, on his cell phone.

Miller also talked about Ali Kourani, who pleaded guilty in a case that involved the sale of high-end, counterfeit goods.

“Counterfeit goods is a staple,” the Deputy Commissioner observed, “unlikely to attract much of the attention of law enforcement. But it’s part of an illicit economy that generates tremendous profits that have been exploited by both Hezbollah and Hamas. Counterfeit goods, untaxed cigarettes.”

Kourani was sentenced to 40 years in United States federal prison after he pleaded guilty in the case.

The NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio put New Yorkers on “heightened awareness” after the drone attack in Iraq last week.

But Miller was already keenly aware of the continuing threat from sleeper cells or lone wolves — whether they profess allegiance to Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda or ISIS.

He said the danger was not confined to specially-trained foreign agents.

“We had more than one instance of employees of the Iranian government, who were here under official “cover”—conducting what was obviously surveillance of critical infrastructure targets, taking videotapes, conducting suspicious activity,” Miller said.

“When they were questioned and their stories didn’t come together, they were asked to leave the United States by the State Department.”

Some 3,000 specially-trained officers are part of the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division, which works with the FBI and other agencies in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

It’s a 24/7 operation, but Miller points out all 36-thousand New York City cops are part of the counterterrorism effort—and so are 8.6 million New Yorkers.