Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

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Monzar al Kassar and the Criminal/Terrorist Nexus
The Drug Enforcement Administration's arrest last week in Spain of Monzar al Kassar, a major-league weapons trafficker, shows how closely connected the worlds of organized criminal activity and terrorism have become.

Al Kassar is a creature of the Cold War, tolerated in his multiple criminal activities because state sponsors, including the United States, needed his services. He built a fortune, lived in a mansion in Marbella in southern Spain and seemed to be set for life.

But, as with Viktor Bout and others, the end of the Cold War opened new opportunities that proved hard to resist. And al Kassar's hatred for Americans seems to have grown, although, given his long ties with organizations killing Americans, perhaps it is just now more overt.

So al Kassar has morphed from a tolerated criminal agent to one that cast a wide net with non-state actors, from Somalia to Bosnia, Yemen, Iraq and Central America. His old network, as is the case with Bout, continues to supply the necessary weapons, and the clients provided the cash.

According to the indictment in Southern District of New York, al Kassar, after a long and illustrious career of supplying criminal and terrorists around the world, had diversified to trying to supply sophisticated weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

These weapons include surface-to-air missiles, expressly intended, according to the indictment, to kill America troops and contractors involved in aiding the Colombian government.

I have followed the Syrian-born al Kassar for years. He recently claimed to be retired but has been linked to supplying weapons to the Baathist insurgents in Iraq. Iraq named him as one the government's "most wanted" men.

Prior to that, he armed Farah Aideed in Somalia, the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, and was close friends with Abu Abbas, the notorious PLF terrorist. As the Observer in London noted:

"The litany of allegations against him, even aside from his links to Abu Abbas, is jaw-dropping. Government files in various countries indicate that he was jailed in the UK on hashish charges in the 1970s, although he denies it.

"The official US Iran Contra report says he sold weapons to the 'Enterprise' arming the Contras. A UN report says he violated arms embargoes to Croatia and Somalia in 1992. A Swiss court froze and later released millions related to a multi-million-pound arms sale to Croatia. Documents in US court related to a Spanish inquiry indicate he has been investigated, but not prosecuted, on allegations of providing a silenced 9mm pistol used to shoot a suspected Israeli agent in 1984.

"He may have been involved in procuring components of a Chinese anti-ship missile for Iran, according to records cited by the Washington Post. He has been investigated in Argentina on charges of passport fraud. A report in the Library of Congress relays charges that he delivered explosives to a group headed by a known terrorist in Brazil, and that he had earlier sold arms to Iranian militias in Cyprus."

Now the FARC, already closely allied with the Chavez government in neighboring Venezuela. Venezuela, law enforcement officials say, is a growing black hole for drug flights bound for Europe, the United States and even Africa. Most likely, it is FARC-controlled cocaine, as they control much of the production of the substance.

For years al Kassar has been, like the character in the Nicholas Cage movie "Lord of War," untouchable. At the end of the movie, Cage's character is arrested, and he tells the arresting agent that, in about 5 minutes, the phone would ring and he would be ordered to be released. And of course it happens.

The phone has rung for al Kassar numerous times. Perhaps this time it will not, and he will pay a small price for the havoc he has wrought.

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