- Title: USA: Syrian arms dealer Al- Kassar sentenced to 30 years in prison
- Date: 25th February 2009
- Summary: VARIOUS OF ILSA AND LISA KLINGHOFFER (SOUNDBITE) (English) LISA KLINGHOFFER, SAYING: "It sends a clear message that it doesn't matter how many years go by, that, as someone once said, 'you can run, but you can't hide,' this terrorist is finally going to be put away for thirty years, and he won't be able to plan and plot any more murders, and that gives me a sense of justice."
- Embargoed: 12th March 2009 12:00
- Location: Usa
- Country: USA
- Reuters ID: LVA5YLJQJSJMCPF33GQBZTHJUJ2L
- Story Text: A Syrian native painted by the U.S. as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers is sentenced to 30 years in prison for conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
A Syrian native whom U.S. prosecutors called one of the world's most prolific arms dealers for decades was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Tuesday (February 24) for conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
Monzer al-Kassar, 63, a longtime resident of Spain known as the "Prince of Marbella" for his lifestyle in the glitzy seaside town, was convicted in November of agreeing to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Calling Kassar a "sophisticated person" whose main motivation was to make money, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he and his right-hand man, Felipe Moreno Godoy, could not escape the "overwhelming" videotaped evidence of the weapons deal that turned out to be a U.S.-backed sting operation.
Rakoff also said the pair intended to "sell huge quantities of serious weapons to what they believed was a terrorist organization who would use these weapons, amongst other things, to kill Americans and wreak havoc.".
Moreno Godoy, a 59-year-old Chilean, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
A federal jury convicted Kassar of masterminding the deal that included 15 surface-to-air missiles, and thousands of assault and sniper rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers for a profit of $1 million.
Prosecutors said he made the deal knowing the FARC would use the weapons against U.S. helicopters and citizens to dissuade American efforts to disrupt the cocaine trade. The prosecution case was based largely on evidence gathered by two undercover operatives who posed as FARC arms buyers and videotaped negotiations in Spain with Kassar and Moreno.
Defense lawyers said Kassar was a legitimate arms merchant who, when dealing with U.S. informants, was instead spying on them for Spanish intelligence.
The charges against Kassar included conspiring to kill American nationals and officers, conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles and providing support to a terrorist organization.
He was arrested at Madrid airport in June 2007 and a year later was extradited after Spain received assurances from U.S. authorities he would face neither the death penalty nor a life sentence without chance of parole.
Kassar has been selling weapons since the 1970s to the Palestinian Liberation Front and clients in Nicaragua, Bosnia, Croatia, Iran, Iraq and Somalia, according to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.
In 1995, he was tried and acquitted of supplying arms that were used in the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship of the coast of Egypt.
Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, whose wheelchair-bound father, Leon Klinghoffer, died after he was shot and thrown overboard during the hijacking, had attended parts of the trial and sentencing. Although Kassar was not in court for the Achille Lauro incident, Lisa Klinghoffer still takes his thirty year sentence as a small modicum of justice for her father's murder.
"It sends a clear message that it doesn't matter how many years go by, that, as someone once said, 'you can run, but you can't hide,' this terrorist is finally going to be put away for thirty years, and he won't be able to plan and plot any more murders, and that gives me a sense of justice," says Lisa Klinghoffer.
Lawyers for Kassar say they will be appealing the court's decision.
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