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A Major Arms Dealer in Shackles, Delivered to New York

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.”


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