After months of legal and diplomatic wrangling, one of the planet's all-time bad guys is being shipped from a Thai jail cell to New York to face gun-running charges.
Viktor Bout, whose storied career as a weapons peddler earned him the title of "Merchant of Death,"was led aboard a jet today headed for the United States. It took two convoys, 50 cops and sharp-shooters on building tops to get the prisoner transfer done.
Bout had fought extradition to New York after he was arrested in a sting operation staged by U.S. and Thai authorities. Bout, who looks like a young Charles Bronson with mop hair and droopy mustache, claimed he was a innocent businessman running an air transport company.
But the rap on him is extensive and long, detailed in a book and lousy Nicholas Cage movie, "Lord of War." In these recounts, Bout bought up surplus Soviet-bloc weapons ranging from assault rifles to missiles and sold them to rebel groups across the globe using old Soviet warplanes that landed on dirt runways. His biggest clients included Liberian leader Charles Taylor, now on trial for war crimes, and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
When he was busted last year, the deal that brought him down involved shoulder-fired missiles destined for the Colombia rebel group FARC.
What held up the extradition was nervous diplomacy from the Kremlin, long suspected of links to Bout's work. Moving so much weaponry couldn't have happened without the knowledge of Russian intelligence, many think.
The jet trip and eventual charges are a minor triumph for U.S. anti-terrorist agencies, who convinced Thai authorities to set aside Russian protests. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton even got in the act with quiet words on the sidelines of her recent trips to Southeast Asia.
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