Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Romanian rendezvous; Terrorists and arms dealers in Bucharest

Terrorists and arms dealers have been busy in Bucharest over the past few months, under the close watch of agents from international secret services.

Raul Reyes (real name: Luis Edgar Devia Silva), who was killed in Ecuador earlier this month by the Columbian army during a bomb attack against FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia], had come to Bucharest, just weeks before his death, to negotiate the purchase of uranium from an agent of the Ukrainian crime syndicate of Semyon Yukovich Mogilevich.

The website of the Romanian newspaper Ziua ( "Romania Swarms With Terrorists," by Bogdan Galca, translated by BBC Monitoring, subscription) cites Colombia's El Espectador as reporting Reyes visit to Romania on a fake Venezuelan passport in mid-January. The Irish journalist Gordon Thomas is quoted in the piece and is said to have had access to reports of the British intelligence service MI6.

The United States issued a warrant for Mogilevich's arrest on charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Russia arrested Mogilevich outside Moscow's World Trade Center last month, along with Arbat Prestige owner Vladimir Nekrasov. (On Monday, a Moscow court refused to grant Mogilevich bail, despite his plea to be dying of diabetes related ailments. See Moscow Times.)

The MI6 report is said to allege that Mogilevich has:
"a working relationship with Al-Qa'idah....It is a known fact that the organization led by Usamah Bin-Ladin is present in Venezuela and in South American countries governed by populist left-wing representatives who oppose the United States."
Columbian Vice President Francisco Santos is quoted by the Spanish television network Antena 3 during the UN Conference on Disarmament as claiming that documents discovered on Reyes' computers revealed that FARC was attempting to purchase fissile material to construct a radiological ("dirty") bomb.

MI6 contends that the Ukrainians stole the enriched uranium from an insufficiently guarded storage site in Cheyabinsk, in the Ural Mountains.

Mogilevich's organization was not the only group attempting to negotiate with FARC in Bucharest.

The notorious Russian-born arms trafficker Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death" (and the model for the main character of the movie "Lord of War," played by Nicholas Cage), was arrested last month in Thailand on the basis of information provided by the Romanian authorities. Bout's associate, Andrew Smulian, had also been in Bucharest to negotiate an arms delivery to FARC.

The U.S. released an indictment of Bout and Smulian that accused them of "plotting in view of procuring material support for a terrorist organization." That material included 100 air-to-ground missiles and missile launchers. The indictment was based on the fact that Smulian had been negotiating with phony FARC leaders who in fact were agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration of the U.S.

Ziua's description of the sting that led to the arrest of Viktor Bout makes for fascinating reading:
Copenhagen, Curacao, and Bucharest

Bout's arrest operation, as described by the documents of the US authorities, sounds like a spy novel. The informers had meetings in Copenhagen, Curacao, and Bucharest during an operation that first trapped Smulian, one of Bout's associates, the middle man of the arms transaction. According to the official document drawn up by a DEA special agent, undercover American agents succeeded in gaining the trust of the "Merchant of Death" and his associates several months before Smulian was arrested in Thailand. The meetings were held in several countries, including Denmark, Netherland Antilles, and Romania. In 1997, a DEA source (CS-1) contacted Smulian. Under DEA coordination, CS-1 sent an email to Smulian asking him to tell Bout that he had a business proposal. After a short while, Smulian told the agent that Bout was interested in the proposal and that they should meet. Under DEA coordination, CS-1 organized a meeting in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. On 7 January 2008, CS-1 met Smulian in Curacao. CS-1 introduced two other DEA sources (CS-2 and CS-3). The two agents claimed to be FARC representatives. They told Smulian that they were interested in purchasing weapons, particularly missiles. On 22 January 2008, CS-1 met Smulian in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss Smulian and Bout's meeting in Russia about the weapons deal. Bout told Smulian to schedule a meeting with CS-2 and one of his representatives to discuss the transaction. The Russian warned his associate to be extremely careful and instructed him to get rid of cell phones, SIM cards, and other devices that might indicate where he had been and whom he had met. According to Smulian, Bout had said that he could provide the FARC with the weapons, because "any communist is our friend." On 23 January 2008, CS-1 and CS-2 met Smulian in Copenhagen. The three discussed the locations where they could meet Bout. Smulian told the DEA collaborators that "100 pieces were immediately available."

Missiles Photos Shown on Laptop

On 26 January 2008, CS-1 and Smulian came to Bucharest, where they met CS-2 and CS-3. Once they arrived, the latter told Smulian that they wanted to meet Bout in person to finalize the arms deal and deliver the money.

Smulian told them that Bout might have been arrested if he had come to Romania. At a certain point, CS-3 talked with Bout on the telephone about potential meeting locations, among which Cuba, Nicaragua, or Armenia. After the discssion with the "Merchant of Death," Smulian showed the three CS on his laptop photos of the missiles that were going to be delivered, pointing out that Bout could also supply helicopters that could be equipped with double-range missiles. Smulian also said that the weapons were in Bulgaria and that their "transport" would cost $5 million. Several days later, Smulian told CS-2 that "the weapons were ready in Bulgaria." On 5 February 2008, the Romanian authorities intercepted a conversation between Bout and CC-2, one of his associates, who operates an air company in our country [Romania]. On 7 February, CS-2 gave Smulian an e-mail address ( that could be used by Smulian and Bout. On 12 February, CS-2 received an e-mail: "Buenos Dias! this is the e-mail we can use for commjnications. Best regards. Friend of Andrew." The address of the sender was created on 12 February under the name Victor But [name as published]. The DEA believes that the message was sent by the "Merchant of Death." The next meeting was held in Thailand, where Bout was captured.

Bout remains under detention in a maximum-security prison on the outskirts of Bangkok. Today, a Thai court extended by 12 days his detention, pending formal charges in Thailand. (See Russian Arms Dealer Jail Stay Lengthened," Guardian, March 19, 2008).

The DEA used a similar sting of a phony deal with FARC to capture Syrian arms trafficker Monzer al-Kassar, the "Prince of Marbella." (See Syrian arms dealer stung in DEA pseudo-deal with Colombian guerillas.) Kassar was arrested on June 7, 2007 in Madrid, following a tip from the Romanians, one day after two of his accomplices, a Chilean and a Palestinian suspected of terrorist activities in the United States, were arrested in Bucharest. Kassar had ties with Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein. Michael J. Garcia, U.S. federal prosecutor in New York, alleges that Kassar has "supported terrorists and insurgents by providing state-of-art weapons that fuelled most of the conflicts started in the past 30 years." Kassar's customers include groups from Nicaragua, Brazil, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, the Palestinian territories, Iran and Iraq.

As Bucharest prepares to host the 20th NATO summit on April 2-4, security preparations have been understandably extensive.

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