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Thai authorities parade alleged Russian arms smuggler

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  • NEW: The United States wants Viktor Bout extradited from Thailand
  • Bout, associate are accused of conspiring to sell weapons to Colombian rebels
  • British officials say Bout shipped arms to the Taliban and al Qaeda
  • Russian is said to have inspired Nicolas Cage role in movie "Lord of War"
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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- He was considered one of the world's most-wanted international arms traffickers this week. But when Thai authorities produced Viktor Bout at a Friday news conference, there was no swagger -- just a somber man dressed in an orange polo shirt.

"Viktor Bout was paraded in front of the press," said CNN's Dan Rivers, who was at Friday's news conference in Bangkok. "He didn't say anything at all when I asked him how he regarded the charges against him."

Bout is accused of conspiring to sell millions of dollars of weapons to a Colombian rebel group. The United States wants to extradite him, but Thai authorities say he may be tried there first.

"He was pretty grim-faced," according to Rivers. "He was marched in -- in handcuffs -- surrounded by heavily armed Thai commandos."

It was a far cry from Bout's image in law enforcement circles as something of an untouchable -- an alleged international arms dealer who eluded authorities and inspired Hollywood villains while, one agent jokes, "crushing boulders in his right hand."

On Thursday, the 41-year-old Russian and his associate, Andrew Smulian, were arrested in Thailand in an undercover weapons sting that spanned five countries and would make the author of the most cloak-and-dagger spy novel proud.

"Someone will undoubtedly write a book about this case some day, and I can tell you that it will read like the very best work of Tom Clancy, only in this case it won't be fiction," Michael Braun, assistant administrator and chief of operations for the DEA, said at a Thursday news conference in New York.

Bout and Smulian are accused of conspiring to provide surface-to-air missiles and other weapons to Colombian rebels, said Michael Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

A complaint filed by a DEA agent accuses them of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The FARC was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization in October 2003.

Bout and Smulian face charges of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, each could face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, the statement said.

The charges cover the period from November 2007 through February 2008, according to a written statement from the U.S. attorney's office and the DEA. The arrests were made Thursday afternoon, Bangkok time.

The United States plans to pursue the extradition of Bout from Thailand, the statement says. There is no mention of Smulian's fate.

"This marks the end of the reign of one of the world's most-wanted arms traffickers," Garcia told reporters, referring to Bout. He said the men were caught with the help of at least half a dozen law enforcement organizations -- including a pair of DEA informants who posed as members of FARC.

Garcia outlined this series of events:

In January, Smulian began meeting with two men who claimed to represent FARC, but were instead confidential sources working for the DEA.

The men claimed interest in buying millions of dollars worth of weapons for the rebel group.

At meetings in Netherlands Antilles, Denmark and Romania, Smulian discussed with the two agents the details and logistics of the arms deal. At one meeting, the agents were given a digital memory stick containing an article about Bout, and documents containing photos and specifications for 100 surface-to-air missiles and armor-piercing rocket launchers, prosecutors say.

Smulian explained that a delivery system was in place that would allow the weapons to be air-dropped into Colombia, and he told the two men it would cost $5 million to transport the weapons.

During one meeting, Smulian introduced the DEA men to Bout over the phone. After that conversation, Smulian told one of the sources that the weapons were ready in Bulgaria. Smulian and Bout discussed with the men the need for a face-to-face meeting to finalize the deal, and that is what happened Thursday.

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Bout, widely acknowledged as the inspiration for the character played by Nicholas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War," had been trailed by the DEA for "a few months" but the arrest "went fast," a U.S. official with knowledge of the arrest told CNN's Jill Dougherty.

"We never thought he could be touched," the source said. "Everyone thought he was 10 feet tall and crushing boulders in his right hand. But this shows something can be done." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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