Spain Delivers Syrian Arms Dealer to U.S.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
NEW YORK, June 13 -- A wealthy international arms dealer was extradited Friday to the United States to face charges that he supplied millions of dollars in weapons to Colombian rebels to attack American forces there.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents accompanied Monzer al-Kassar on a private flight from Madrid that arrived in New York on Friday. He was to be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan.
Kassar, who was born in Syria and is a longtime resident of Spain, was arrested in Madrid last June as part of a U.S. sting operation. An indictment accuses him of conspiring to support terrorists, conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers, conspiring to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles, and money laundering.
Kassar "intended to provide millions of dollars worth of legal weapons to a foreign terrorist organization to be used to kill Americans," U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said in a statement.
Kassar was arrested and brought to the United States, Garcia said, "as a result of extraordinary cooperation with our international law enforcement partners."
Spain's National Court approved the extradition in October, and the Spanish government gave its final approval last week.
As a condition for extradition, the United States agreed not to seek the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole, because Spanish law does not allow for either of those forms of punishment, said William Ostick, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Spain.
In rejecting Kassar's appeal, a panel of National Court judges said that he had been a known arms trafficker since the 1970s and had provided weapons to armed groups in countries including Nicaragua, Brazil, Bosnia, Iran and Iraq.
In the sting operation, U.S. officials said, undercover DEA officers arranged a fictitious deal with Kassar, convincing him that they represented rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
They said they wanted to buy surface-to-air missile systems, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, thousands of machine guns and millions of rounds of ammunition for the group to take down U.S. helicopters aiding Colombia's battle against drug traffickers.
Kassar was acquitted in Spain in 1995 of supplying assault rifles used by Palestinian militants in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. An American was killed in the hijacking.