Spain: Syrian arms dealer stung in DEA pseudo-deal with Colombian guerillas

International arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar was arrested by Spanish police June 7 after a federal indictment was issued against him in New York for conspiring to support terrorists and kill US soldiers. US officials said undercover agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had convinced al-Kassar that they represented the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerilla army classified by the US State Department as a terrorist group.

In a series of recorded phone calls, e-mails and meetings, al-Kassar and the DEA agents struck a fictitious $8 million deal for him to supply surface-to-air missile systems, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, thousands of machine guns and tons of explosives obtained in Romania and Bulgaria, officials said. About $400,000 was reportedly wired to Spain from New York as a down payment.

Al-Kassar and his cohorts were told the missile systems were “intended to take down US helicopters,” said US Attorney Michael Garcia. Though no weapons exchanged hands, the defendants believed “the arms deal was absolutely real. They demonstrated their willingness to support a terrorist organization and their capacity to do so.”

A longtime resident of Spain, the Syrian-born al-Kassar was apprehended at Madrid’s Barajas airport after he arrived on a flight from the resort city of Malaga. Police have also searched his palatial home in Marbella, near Malaga. “Someone who considered himself untouchable is now sitting in a jail in Spain,” said DEA administrator Karen Tandy.

Two others indicted on the same charges in Manhattan’s federal District Court, Tareq Mousa al Ghazi and Luis Filipe Moreno Godoy, were arrested in Romania. The indictment says al-Kassar has provided weapons to violent factions in Nicaragua, Brazil, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, Iran and Iraq. His customers included known terrorist organizations determined to stage “attacks on United States interests and United States nationals.” Al-Kassar also is reportedly on the Iraqi government’s most-wanted list for arming insurgents.

Al-Kassar stood trial in Spain in 1995 on charges that he supplied assault rifles used by Palestinian militants in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, but he was acquitted for lack of evidence.

There have been no immediate details on extradition proceedings, though Spain and the United States do have an extradition treaty that applies in such cases. A court in Bucharest has ordered al Ghazi and Godoy held without bail pending extradition. Ghazi is identified as a Polish citizen of Palestinian origin, and Godoy as a Spanish citizen of Chilean origin. If convicted, the three could face life sentences. (AP, June 8)

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