A wealthy arms dealer long suspected of aiding militants in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts was convicted Thursday of conspiring to sell weapons to informants who posed as arms suppliers for terrorists willing to kill Americans.
Syrian-born Monzer al-Kassar, 62, and a co-defendant, Luis Felipe Moreno Godoy, were convicted of conspiring over a four-month period last year to try to sell millions of dollars worth of heavy weaponry to Colombian militants.
During the verdict, al-Kassar blew kisses to several weeping courtroom supporters.
The federal jury in Manhattan convicted the men of conspiring to provide aid and equipment to a terrorist organization, conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers, conspiring to acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and money laundering.
U.S. authorities said al-Kassar was willing to sell surface-to-air missile systems, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, thousands of machine guns and millions of rounds of ammunition to Colombian rebels.
Prosecutors said al-Kassar believed undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents were representing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel army known as FARC that is classified in the United States as a terrorist group. The evidence included recorded phone calls, e-mails and meetings.
The agents struck a fictitious $8 million deal for al-Kassar to supply weaponry obtained in Romania and Bulgaria. No weapons were ever exchanged.
The defense argued that the men were actually sleuthing on behalf of Spanish intelligence operators.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Boyd Johnson said greed was the chief motivation.
The men face up to life in prison when they are sentenced on Feb. 18.
Lawyers for both men said they would appeal.
An indictment unsealed last year said al-Kassar had provided military equipment to violent factions in Nicaragua, Brazil, Cyprus, Bosnia, Croatia, Somalia, Iran and Iraq. It said his customers included known terrorist organizations determined to stage "attacks on United States interests and United States nationals."
Arrested in Madrid
Al-Kassar, long a target of U.S. investigators, was arrested on June 7, 2007 after arriving at an airport in Madrid, Spain.
Al-Kassar was acquitted in Spain of supplying assault rifles used by Palestinian militants in the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. The hijackers killed 69-year-old New Yorker Leon Klinghoffer, dumping his body and wheelchair overboard.
Klinghoffer's daughters were in court for Thursday's conviction. "I wanted everyone there to know my father is in the courtroom in a spiritual way," said Lisa Klinghoffer, who wore a pin bearing his initials.
As jurors stepped into an elevator to leave, Lisa Klinghoffer shouted: "Thank you!"
"He provided the guns that killed my father," she asserted despite the acquittal. "It's a long time coming."