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Question of the Day
A suspected international arms dealer is accused of conspiring to sell to Marxist guerrillas in Colombia millions of dollars worth of weapons to be used to kill Americans there, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed yesterday in New York.
U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said the indictment stated that Viktor Bout had carried out his weapons-trafficking business since the 1990s by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.
In 2004, as a result of his weapons-trafficking activities in Liberia, Mr. Garcia said, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department placed Mr. Bout on the Specially Designated Nationals list, which prohibits transactions between him and U.S. nationals and freezes his assets that are within the jurisdiction of the United States.
"Viktor Bout has long been considered by the international community as one of the world's most-prolific arms traffickers," Mr. Garcia said. "Today, Bout is in Thai custody facing extradition to the United States, where he will be prosecuted for agreeing to arm a terrorist organization, an aim of which was to kill American citizens."
Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said that between November and March, Mr. Bout agreed to sell to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missile systems, armor-piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, anti-personnel land mines, C-4 plastic explosives, night-vision equipment, ultralight airplanes that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Mrs. Leonhart said Mr. Bout was arrested by Thai authorities on a provisional arrest warrant April 9, based on a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charging conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
She said Mr. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two sources working with the DEA, who said they were acquiring the weapons for FARC, with the specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia.
According to the indictment, during a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6, Mr. Bout told undercover agents that he could arrange to airdrop the arms to FARC in Colombia, and offered to sell to FARC two cargo planes that could be used for arms deliveries.
The indictment stated that Mr. Bout told the agents he understood they wanted to use the arms against American personnel in Colombia, adding that the U.S. also was his enemy and that the FARC's fight against the U.S. also was his fight.
The indictment charges Mr. Bout with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals; conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees; conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile; and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
The U.S. is pursuing Mr. Bout's extradition from Thailand.
By Robert N. Tracci
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