Undercover agent reveals how global terrorist was snaredby Richard Bailey 20/05/2017 10:00:00 0 comments 1 Views
- Monzer al-Kassar was described as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers
- Undercover DEA agent who caught the terrorist spoke exclusively to MailOnline
- The pair met to discuss a weapons deal worth between €6million and €8million
- Al-Kassar threatened agents with eerie birthday containing pictures of their kids
- As a result of Operation Legacy, the arms dealer was arrested at Madrid airport
- He was tried in Manhattan court where the judge handed him 30-year sentence
By Gareth Davies For Mailonline
Published: 14:59 BST, 20 May 2017 | Updated: 14:59 BST, 20 May 2017
The man behind a sting that put one of the world's most prolific arms dealers behind bars has opened up on the operation brought him to justice.
MailOnline talked exclusively to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent who posed as a Colombian guerrilla chief to nail Monzer al-Kassar - a Syrian-born global terrorist serving 30 years.
The agent, whose identity we are not revealing, met face-to-face multiple times with the sophisticated criminal dubbed the Prince of Marbella by the US for his lavish lifestyle.
Al-Kassar was said to be so ahead of the game, he knew which DEA officers were after him, and would send them greetings cards on the occasions of their children's birthdays with pictures of their loved ones inside as a threat.
Knowing all this, the undercover spy said he never hesitated when asked to be a part of the bust where he would be disguised as a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and said: 'There's always a danger. But it's my job. Someone has to do it.'
Syrian-born arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar is handcuffed and led away by a DEA officer after his arrest at Madrid airport
Members of the Colombian Navy guard a seized submarine built by drug smugglers in a makeshift shipyard in Timbiqui, like the ones used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who the undercover DEA agent was pretending to be a member of
Leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) patrol by a roadway near to San Vicente de Caguan
Global terrorist Monzer al-Kassar, pictured smiling at one of his many luxury Spanish homes
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
HOW IT ALL STARTED
The 1948 assassination of populist firebrand Jorge Eliecer Gaitan led to a political bloodletting known as 'The Violence.'
Tens of thousands died, and peasant groups joined with communists to arm themselves.
A 1964 military attack on their main encampment led to the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
WHAT THE REBELS WANTED
Though nominally Marxist, the FARC's ideology has never been well defined.
It has sought to make the conservative oligarchy share power and prioritized land reform in a country where more than 5 million people have been forcibly displaced, mostly by far-right militias in the service of ranchers, businessmen and drug traffickers.
The FARC lost popularity as it turned to kidnapping, extortion and taxes on cocaine production and illegal gold mining to fund its insurgency.
HOW THE US GOT INVOLVED
In 2000, the United States began sending billions of dollars to counter drug-trafficking and the insurgency under Plan Colombia, which helped security forces weaken the FARC and kill several top commanders.
The State Department classifies the group as a terrorist organization and its leaders face U.S. indictments for what the George W. Bush administration called the world's largest drug-trafficking organization.
THE MASSIVE HUMAN TOLL
More than 220,000 lives have been lost, most of them civilians. In the past two decades, most of the killings were inflicted by the militias, which made peace with the government in 2003.
The FARC abducted ranchers, politicians and soldiers and often held them for years in jungle prison camps. Its captives included former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors, all of whom were rescued in 2008.
TODAY'S PLAN FOR LASTING PEACE
Mid-1980s peace talks collapsed after death squads killed at least 3,000 allies of the FARC's political wing.
Another effort fell apart in 2002 after the rebels hijacked an airliner to kidnap a senator.
The latest talks had gone on since 2012 in Havana and culminated Wednesday evening with a deal after the last issues were resolved.
Agreement previously had been reached on land reform, combatting drug trafficking, the guerrillas' political participation and punishing war crimes on both sides.
In late June last year, negotiators announced a cease-fire agreement and a blueprint for how an estimated 7,000 FARC fighters will demobilize and lay down their weapons once the peace accord is implemented.
The agent is still serving, and with 150 cases under his belt, he could be forgiven for feeling complacent about putting a villain in jail.
But after 20 years on the job, he still gets the same buzz about snaring a target today as he did as a rookie.
His role in Operation Legacy - the name given to the project of bringing the dangerous criminal down - was to disguise himself as a head honcho of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
'I was a member of the FARC buying weapons,'
'I never saw any weapons, he was very clever.
'He gave us all the information and the aspects and the types of weapons.
'But it was always through his contact.
'My job was to get the evidence - I got the evidence - he's in prison.'
It was well known within intelligence circles the left-wing group were looking to buy weapons of mass destruction to protect a cocaine-trafficking business and to attack US interests.
The DEA, posing as terrorists, met al-Kassar at his luxury house in Spain to agree to provide prices for surface-to-air missile systems for the FARC to use to attack United States helicopters in Colombia, prosecutors said.
Al-Kassar owned several houses in Spain, all of which heavily adorned with marble.
One of his swimming pools was designed in the shape of a four-leafed clover and another had the shape of a shark cut into the tiles.
Cutting deals worth millions, he was able to build himself a life of extravagance on the Spanish coast of Marbella, and his houses had 12-car garages.
Al-Kassar had already met with two agents to discuss the sale of weapons, including assault and sniper rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers, to the Colombian extremist group.
The global terrorist told the sources the weapons would cost between €6million and €8million ($8million to $10.6million) and offered to send 1,000 men to fight with the FARC against US military officers.
The agent MailOnline talked to was aware of claims al-Kassar had killed those looking to persecute him in the past.
He wasn't fazed, even when he came face-to-face with evil.
'I met him,' he said, 'You just try to do your job.'
'It's not about meeting the guy, it's about doing your job.
You can't get spooked. You just have to do it.
'I know my job, I know what I need.
'We talk to the prosecutors so we know what we need to do and what they need to hear.
'So I try to make the guy give the evidence - we managed to do that.'
In 2007, al-Kassar was arrested at Madrid airport in Spain and the years of planning by those behind Operation Legacy was finally over.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents escort suspected Syrian arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar from a helicopter to a waiting vehicle, Friday, June 13, 2008 in New York
His indictment said he knew the FARC kidnapped US citizens to dissuade American efforts to disrupt the cocaine trade.
The US government has designated the FARC as a foreign terrorist organizsation.
The rebels have been fighting for socialist revolution since 1964 and have at times run large swathes of Colombia.
Al-Kassar appeared in US District Court in Manhattan and pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiring to kill American nationals and officers, conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and providing support to a terrorist organisation.
The Spanish government agreed to hand over al-Kassar after it received assurances from US authorities he would face neither the death penalty nor a life sentence with no chance of parole.
The US Embassy in Madrid said al-Kassar has been selling weapons since the 1970s to the Palestinian Liberation Front and clients in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Croatia, Iran, Iraq and Somalia.
He was handed a 30-year sentence.
And how did the agent feel?
'It's the same feeling I get any time anybody goes to jail,' he said.
'You're doing something for the community and you know there's not going to be a person selling drugs and weapons.
'That's a great feeling to know you're doing something good.
'It's your job. It's inside you.'
The DEA agent told MailOnline he had been involved in dozens of operations since and had lost count of the number he headed up before then.
All of which involved dangerous characters, but the way to be successful was always the same - through the target's confidants.
'They don't have to trust me, he said.
'They have to trust the people who work for him. So I had to win the trust of the other people. I think it's experience.
'I learn a lot from different people. Every time you do a case - you learn something.
'You try not to make mistakes you've meant before and hope you get the job done.'
More often than not, the agent got his man.
Of the hundreds of operations he has been a part of, he said almost all of them have resulted in the target being jailed.