Branded the "Merchant of Death," former Russian Air Force officer Viktor Bout is accused of selling arms to Marxist Colombian terrorists. The BBC reports that Bout, who has also been dogged by charges that he provided arms to Angolan rebels and accused Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor, may also have been funneling arms to Hizballah and the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.
"The direct accusation is that his planes brought in weapons for al-Shabaab, which is pretty much top of the wanted list in terms of terrorist activity and Islamic militant activity in Somalia," said Alex Yearsley, an arms-control expert working as a United Nations consultant. There are also allegations that Bout was negotiating with Hizballah to bring them missiles, and that Israel was so concerned that it tried to "take him out" years ago, Yearsley said.
"When he was working in Iran in 2005 and when he appears in Beirut in 2006 with the Hizballah-Israel war - when Russia was supplying a great deal of weapons through Iran, which ended up in Russian hands - at that point, he was very useful to them and he was working on behalf of the Russian state," said journalist Douglas Farah, author of Merchant of Death, a book about Bout.
A Kremlin source told the BBC that Bout had "close relations with officials in the Kremlin" including people who worked in the office of Russian presidents Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin.
Bout was arrested in 2008 in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation in Bangkok. He is accused of offering to provide surface-to-air missiles to DEA agents posing as Marxist rebels from Colombia. Bout was allegedly told that American nationals could be targeted with those weapons, but stated that "We're together, we have the same enemy." Extradited from Thailand to the United States in November, he faces a life sentence if convicted on the arms-trafficking charges.