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Suspected Russian arms trafficker arrives in US

November 17, 2010

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout arrived in New York late Tuesday and was taken to a high-security prison in Manhattan after being extradited from Thailand, the US Justice Department said.

Bout, who arrived aboard a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) charter plane, is due to appear in a US federal court on Wednesday before US District Judge Shira Scheindlin.

"Viktor Bout has been indicted in the United States, but his alleged arms trafficking activity and support of armed conflicts in Africa has been a cause of concern around the world. His extradition is a victory for the rule of law worldwide," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

The former Soviet air force pilot's surprise extradition from Thailand followed a long legal battle and intense opposition from Moscow, which denounced the move as "extreme injustice" and said it would support him "by all means".

Escorted by dozens of armed police commandos and with snipers deployed along the route, Bout was whisked from a maximum security Bangkok prison to a waiting US government plane on Tuesday before his wife had a chance to say goodbye.

The inspiration for the Hollywood movie "Lord of War," Bout allegedly used a fleet of cargo planes to run guns to combatants in conflicts in Africa, South America and the Middle East.

He was arrested in March 2008 in Bangkok after a sting by US Drug Enforcement Agency operatives posing as buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerrilla group.

US authorities allege he agreed to sell the undercover agents millions of dollars' worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles and armor piercing rocket launchers, for use against US helicopters in Colombia.

"Viktor Bout allegedly jumped at the chance to arm narco-terrorists bent on killing Americans with an arsenal of military grade weapons," US Attorney Preet Bharara said.

He said the extradition "underscores our commitment to protect Americans on our own soil and throughout the world."

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