Arms Dealer Arrested in Spain

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

A longtime international arms trafficker was arrested Thursday evening in Spain, where he has a mansion, on U.S. charges that he was conspiring to sell millions of dollars in arms to Colombian rebels.

Since the early 1970s, Monzer al-Kassar has "supported terrorists and insurgents by providing them with high-powered weapons that have fueled the most violent conflicts of the last three decades," Michael J. Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement released yesterday. Along the way, Kassar sold weapons to groups in Nicaragua, Brazil, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, the Palestinian territories, Iran and Iraq, Garcia and Karen P. Tandy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief, said in the statement.

Kassar also has had known associations with Mohammed Abbas -- the former terrorist leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front who is also known as Abu Abbas -- and with Saddam Hussein's older son, Uday, who was killed by U.S. troops in Iraq in 2003. Kassar also was identified as selling arms to the contras in the House-Senate report on the Iran-contra scandal.

In a September interview with the British newspaper the Observer, the Syrian-born Kassar said he had retired from arms dealing and was living peacefully in his 15-room Renaissance palazzo near Marbella on Spain's Costa del Sol.

But his remarks to the Observer may have been untrue, according to the indictment unsealed Thursday in New York. It alleges that Kassar and two associates conspired to provide the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, with small arms and ammunition, thousands of machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and possibly surface-to-air missile systems "to protect their cocaine trafficking business and to attack United States interests in Colombia."

According to the indictment, Kassar was taken in by two confidential informants working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who successfully passed themselves off as FARC representatives seeking weapons to be used against American and Colombian units. At a Feb. 6 meeting at Kassar's Marbella home, the two informants provided an initial list that mainly included rifles and grenades. Kassar set a price of $7.8 million to $13.5 million plus the cost of transporting the weapons to Colombia, according to the indictment.

At the same time, the arms dealer offered "to send 1,000 men to the informants to fight with the FARC against U.S. military officers in Colombia," the indictment says.

Over the next few months, the informants sent Kassar so-called end-user certificates, needed to legitimatize international arms transactions, and arranged for the transfer to him of 100,000 euros (about $130,000) for arranging transportation for the weapons, the indictment says.

Early in May, an additional $135,000 was sent to Kassar to pay for a boat that would take the weapons from Bulgaria and Romania, where they were to be purchased.

Along the way, Kassar responded to requests from the informants for surface-to-air missiles and experts to train FARC in the use of explosives, the indictment says.

As in several other recent cases involving informants, many of Kassar's meetings and telephone calls were recorded.

In all, he and his associates were indicted on four separate conspiracy counts including the supplying of material support to a foreign terrorist group; conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, officials and employees; and conspiracy to acquire an antiaircraft missile.

Spanish police arrested Kassar in Madrid. His alleged co-defendants, Tareq Mousa al-Ghazi and Luis Felipe Morena-Godoy, were arrested in Romania.

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