Pubdate: Wed, 06 Nov 2002
Source: Tribune, The (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Tribune
Author: Ben Finley, Knight Ridder Newspapers


WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Ashcroft Wednesday announced the arrests 
of four members of a right-wing paramilitary group on charges of 
participating in a $25 million drugs-for-arms deal.

According to Ashcroft, agents for the Autodefensias Unidas de Colombia 
(AUC) sought to buy thousands of machine guns and grenades with cocaine and 
American dollars from an undercover FBI agent posing as an arms dealer. The 
State Department has listed the AUC as a foreign terrorist organization 
since September 2001.

It was the second arms-for-drugs plot that U.S. investigators say they've 
uncovered recently. In Hong Kong, three men are fighting extradition to the 
United States in connection with an alleged scheme to use profits from 
illicit drug sales to finance the purchase of Stinger surface-to-air 
missiles for the al-Qaida terror group.

In both cases, the alleged plotters' co-conspirators turned out to be U.S. 
law enforcement personnel, working undercover. Drug Enforcement Agency 
Administrator Asa Hutchinson said the arrests confirm long-standing U.S. 
claims that terrorists sometimes finance their operations through drug sales.

"Drug traffickers and terrorists work out of the same jungle, plan in the 
same cave and train in the same desert," Hutchinson said.

In the AUC case, on Nov. 5, FBI and DEA personnel arrested Uwe Jensen in 
Houston. On the same day, with the assistance of Costa Rican police they 
arrested Carlos Ali Romero Varela, Cesar Lopez and a fourth individual 
identified as "Commandante Emilio" in San Jose, Costa Rica. The four are 
charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to provide 
material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

Jensen is being held in Houston. Extradition from Costa Rica of his alleged 
co-conspirators is now under way.

In the case authorities link to al-Qaida, a Minneapolis man, born in India, 
and two Pakistani nationals allegedly negotiated the sale of five tons of 
hashish and a 1,323 pounds of heroin with undercover agents in San Diego 
earlier this year. The heroin alone would be worth tens of millions of dollars.

The three men, according to their indictment, proposed to exchange drugs 
for U.S.-made Stinger missiles that they intended to provide to al-Qaida.

A Stinger missile is a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapon, widely used by 
Afghan resistance forces against Russian occupiers in the 1980s.

The three defendants - Syed Mustajab Shah, Muhammed Abid Afridi and Ilyas 
Ali of Minneapolis - were arrested on Sept. 20 in Hong Kong after spending 
time in Pakistan, authorities said.

They face an extradition hearing on Nov. 15.

AUC, the Colombian paramilitary group, is responsible for 70 percent of 
human rights violations in Colombia, according to the State Department, and 
the Justice Department says that AUC is funded mainly by drug trafficking.

According to the Colombian National Police, AUC has conducted more than 800 
assassinations, 203 kidnappings and 75 massacres.

"Terrorism and drug trafficking thrive in the same conditions.

They feed off each other and support each other," said Ashcroft.

Defendants in both alleged conspiracies could face life in prison, Ashcroft 
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