'Merchant of Death' arrested in Thailand

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout faces extradition to US after being arrested in DEA sting.

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US and Thai authorities announced Thursday the capture of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death" for his sales of weapons to fighters in some of the world's most violent conflicts of the past decade.

The Associated Press reports that Mr. Bout was arrested Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had flown to negotiate an arms deal with DEA agents posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and now faces extradition to the US.

The New York Times reports that Andrew Smulian, a business associate of Bout's, was also detained in Bangkok and faces possible extradition to the US. The Bangkok Post writes that Thai authorities are considering trying Bout in Thailand, though they may drop the charges to clear the way for Washington to take charge of Bout. RIA Novosti adds that Russia may also seek to extradite Bout, though Russian officials have not said whether he would face charges there.

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The Financial Times reports that Bout has been accused of arms dealing for more than a decade. Bout, a former Soviet officer, allegedly bought aircraft and weapons from former Soviet states and sold them in military conflicts around the world.

The BBC writes in a profile of Bout that his nickname "merchant of death" was first coined by former British Foreign Minister Peter Hain.

The BBC notes that the US ordered Bout's assets frozen in 2006, and banned Americans from doing business with him.

The Times of London reports that news of Bout's arrest was met with approval from Amnesty International, though officials of the human rights organization lamented that Bout was not brought to justice sooner.

Some reports suggest that Bout's long freedom may have been due to his involvement in the US's current efforts in Iraq. The National Post of Canada republished Thursday an article from 2004, in which it suggested that the US dragged its heels in pursuit of Bout because he had been ferrying supplies into Iraq for US forces.

ABC News reported Thursday, however, that US officials have since admitted that Bout was indeed paid from Pentagon coffers to fly supplies into Iraq. In addition, the US military supplied Bout's air fleet with 500,000 gallons of free fuel for its Iraq missions.

The article notes that Bout's employment by the US was first brought to light in a 2004 Financial Times report, in which an unnamed CIA official said that though the CIA warned colleagues in Iraq of the ties to Bout in 2003, but "It would appear...that [information] did not make its way to the correct folks."

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