by Alan Feuer
Manhattan on a Friday afternoon: downtown along the East River, where the sun was flashing brightly and a lazy weekend called. Women strolled through the South Street Seaport in their summer dresses; tourists went on round-the-island helicopter tours. It was close enough to Wall Street to almost feel the brokers getting ready to head off to their houses by the sea.
Then, from a clear blue sky, an ordinary A-Star helicopter touched down at a helipad on Pier 6. Armed federal agents waited for it blandly, dark shades catching the sun. A white-haired man, in shackles, emerged from the cabin and was led across the tarmac to a waiting black Cadillac Escalade. The Escalade turned gently onto South Street, merged with local traffic and disappeared in the direction of the federal jail, half a mile up the street.
The city has its secrets, many of them openly on display, and this was one of them: an international arms dealer arriving in New York, having just been extradited by the government of Spain. His name is Monzer al-Kassar, and he had recently come off a flight from Europe, followed by a 40-minute helicopter jaunt from Westchester County Airport. He looked haggard, and was perhaps wearing the clothes that he had slept in. He did not look pleased.
Before his arrest last June at Madrid Barajas International Airport, Mr. Kassar, 62, was a vastly wealthy weapons dealer, a wanted man for more than 30 years who officials say played roles in the Iran-contra affair, the Achille Lauro hijacking and the insurgency in Iraq.
His arrest in Spain last year (despite the presence of his two bodyguards) was the capstone of an American undercover operation that resulted in his indictment in New York in a plot to ship millions of dollars of weapons on a Greek freighter bound from Romania to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
No one would have known that a captured suspect, accused of selling arms to terrorists and of helping Saddam Hussein spirit a billion dollars out of Iraq, was landing in a crowd at the Wall Street heliport unless he or she had been alerted in advance. (In fact, the news media were tipped off in advance, and a row of photographers with telephoto lenses lined a railing near the river as French and German tourists asked them who was coming.)
Still, if one knew what to look for, there were signs: the Escalade, a fast boat from the Police Department Harbor Unit bobbing on the water, a few fit men in darkish suits with corkscrewed plastic wires in their ears.
Mr. Kassar had been in custody in Spain since his arrest, when he was lured to Madrid by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration from his seaside villa in Marbella. Prosecutors seeking his extradition filed papers earlier this year, accusing him of agreeing to sell a cargo freighter’s worth of rifles, pistols, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets to the rebels in Colombia who seek to kill American forces there on antidrug missions.
Should it go to trial, the case will most likely be a cinematic thriller with a cast of characters that includes a man named “Samir” who was the D.E.A.’s informant; Luis Felipe Moreno Godoy, Mr. Kassar’s accountant; Tareq Mousa al-Ghazi, another arms dealer who 20 years ago, officials say, helped Mr. Kassar pull off deals in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Yemen; and various of Mr. Kassar’s employees, not the least a Greek shipping captain named Kristos who worked for him for more than 30 years.
All of which came as news to Andrew Moxley, a postal clerk from Texas, who had strolled around the Battery with his family and was looking for a snack. The Moxleys passed the heliport just seconds after the A-Star 350 had departed. They were going to a Broadway show that night, but Mr. Moxley sighed.
“I wished I would have seen it,” he said. “That’s way cooler.”