Prince of Thieves
The Guardian featured an atmospheric piece on how the Prince of Marbella, Monzer al-Kassar, a man on the "Most Wanted" list of Iraq, lived. You could do worse.
The Observer tracked him down to his lavish, 15-suite residence, designed like a Renaissance palazzo overlooking Puerto Banus. Guards swing the gates open to allow guests into the estate, where there is a swimming pool built like a four-leaf clover. Three Spanish mastiffs prowl during the night to deter uninvited guests.
Inside the palace, a grand piano is showcased at the bottom of a marble staircase under a domed skylight. In the grand salon, silk flowers are arranged in a giant Chinese vase in front of a marble fireplace. Statues of servants holding lamps stand before the massive drapes, and on the wall are murals of African servants in turbans, carrying platters of fruit.
Not bad for a man associated with the Achille Laura shipjacking, whose walls are adorned with photographs of him shaking hands with Uday Hussein, members of the Somali Aideed clan, Abu Abbas, up on hashish smuggling charges in the UK, mentioned in connection with Iran-Contra, said to have sold anti-ship missiles to Teheran, and with supposed side businesses supplying terror groups in Latin America and Iran-backed militias. While some might to object to his choice of friends, Monzer al-Kassar is cheerfully broadminded.
Kassar admits that a lifetime in the arms business has led to a variety of acquaintances: 'I met interesting people: good people, bad people. How do I know who's good and who's bad? This is a matter of opinion ... The bad people for you may be the good people for me.'
Who's good and who's bad? If you weren't good to Monzer it was definitely bad for you. The PBS blog tells this droll story of what happened when mere policemen tried to put the collar on the Prince of Marbella.
In 1992, Spain arrested Al Kassar on charges of piracy and providing the arms to the Abu Abbas-led PLF terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murdered American Leon Klinghoffer. Western intelligence agencies concluded that Al Kassar flew Abbas to safety aboard one of his private planes after the hijackers surrendered. One prosecution witness, Ahmed Al Assadi, while spending time in Vercelli prison for participating in the hijacking, changed his story and refused to go to Spain to identify Al Kassar as the person who supplied the hijackers' weapons. After Al Kassar's arrest, another accuser, Ismail Jalid, fell to his death from a fifth-story window in Marbella, Spain, in what the coroner called "an alcoholic coma." During the 1995 trial, in a highly publicized standoff with police, a third witness's children were kidnapped by Colombian drug traffickers shortly before he testified. The witness blamed Al Kassar, who denied involvement and stated, "I have nothing to do with the kidnapping and I hope that it is over as soon as possible. Children are sacred for Arabs. No one, not even your worst enemy, deserves this." Al Kassar was later acquitted of all charges.
The really interesting thing about the underworld life is how often coincidences routinely happen. How many people do you know who will stagger up from an alcoholic coma and pitch themselves out of five story windows? Fortunately for most of us civilians, there are people who don't believe in coincidences. And a lot of them apparently work at the DEA, who asked themselves, now what kind of person would Monzer al-Kasser hang out with? The answer they came up with was 'the kind of people looking to buy uranium'.
Among the more explosive revelations from the laptops of the late FARC leader Raul Reyes is the allegation that the FARC was trafficking in radioactive materials and according to Colombia’s Vice President was planning to build a “dirty bomb.”
That meant FARC had money to burn, and Monzer was going after some of it. After all, castles in Spain don't come cheap and a man's got to make a living.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s press release, international arms-trafficker extraordinaire Victor Bout was arrested for plotting to sell weapons to the FARC – not knowing that the reputed FARC representatives were in fact working for the DEA. Only nine months ago another notorious international arms dealer, Monzer al-Kasser was arrested for conspiring to sell weapons (and trainers) to the FARC, when in fact the FARC buyers were in fact DEA operatives. For al-Kasser, who has been linked to the Palestine Liberation Front (the group responsible for the Achille Lauro hijacking) as well as leading Baathist figures from Syria and Iraq, it was more than just business. He offered to raise an army to assist the FARC. Al-Kasser seems to have had a passion for his work.
The details of Monzer's tender to FARC make interesting reading. A DEA release is a tale of ships, missiles and mercenaries.
During their consensually recorded meetings, Kassar, Ghazi, and Moreno-Godoy provided the CSs with, among other things: (1) a schematic of the vessel to be used to transport the weapons; (2) specifications for the SAMs they agreed to sell to the FARC; and (3) bank accounts in Spain and Lebanon that were ultimately used to conceal more than $400,000 from DEA undercover accounts that the CSs represented, and Kassar, Ghazi, and Moreno-Godoy believed, were FARC drug proceeds for the weapons deal. During their meetings with the CSs, Kassar, Ghazi, and Moreno-Godoy reviewed Nicaraguan end-user certificates that were used to make the weapons deal appear legitimate. Kassar also promised to provide the FARC with ton-quantities of C4 explosives, as well as expert trainers from Lebanon to teach the FARC how to effectively use C4 and improvised explosive devices (commonly referred to as "IEDs"). In addition, Kassar offered to send a thousand men to fight with the FARC against United States military officers in Colombia.
He offered to supply Strela 2M MANPADs that could be used against US helicopter assets operating in support, presumably, of the Colombian government. FARC is a major insurgency and controls or influences an area larger than some European countries. The DEA documents suggest it was planning some major fireworks. Even so, what developments pushed FARC into planning its buildup just now? Was it fantasy or a serious plan? Had they acquired major new allies internationally or in the region? When Monzer and Bout's trial opens, the public may get to find out.
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