Merchant of Death
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Is Viktor B. Flying Weapons to Islamists in Somalia
Twice in one week the airport at Mogadishu, Somalia, was the scene of something almost unseen in the past decade-the landing of two large Soviet-era IL-76 cargo planes, among the biggest in the world, capable of carryng more than 50 tons in its hold. The airport is under the control of the Islamis militias that are intent on turning Somalia into an Islamic nation governed by a radical vision of what sharia law implies. Few flights have landed there at all in the past decade.

News reports from the scene said the aircraft unloaded large amounts of boxes believed to be weapons, into the waiting trucks of the Islamist militias. Little more could be garnered because the militiamen drove off onlookers and journalists.

On the first flight, the plane was painted with the "UN" markings denoting Kazakstan registration, with no other identifiers. The second flight may have been the same aircraft, and if not, was a similar Il-76, and was met by at least six trucks to facilitate the offloading of the cargo.

The BBC reported that "credible sources said that flight originated in Eritrea carrying anti-aircraft guns, uniforms, AK47s and several senior Eritrean officers." AFP managed to squeeze off one picture showing trucks on the ground unloading the aircraft.

Hmm, so an unmarked Soviet-built aircraft probably carrying large amounts of weapons, flying to remote airstrips for unsavory Islamist backers. Kazakstan registration. Fits a certain M.O. There are not many people in the weapons world who can provide the weapons and the transportation, who know the terrain and the militia leaders.

Bout has registered his Reem Air in Kazakstan, including an IL-76, and has flown regularly smaller planes to Somalia in recent times, from Sharjah, UAE. He flew for the Taliban, sold them airplanes and helped them break an international embargo. He did the same for Bosnian Islamist militants in the early 1990s. No one else has that kind of track record.

Intelligence officials are desperately trying to find any further markers on the aircraft. But if it flies like a duck and quacks like a duck, it just might be a duck.
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