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U.S. charges Guinea-Bissau military chief in plot with missiles, drugs

By CNN Staff
updated 9:10 PM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Antonio Indjai faces conspiracy charges for an alleged plot with Colombian rebels
  • Prosecutor: The Guinea-Bissau military chief "sold himself and use of his country for a price"
  • Charges against him come after another former military official's arrest on similar charges

(CNN) -- U.S. prosecutors have accused the head of Guinea-Bissau's military of plotting to team up with Colombian rebels as part of a "narco-terrorist" operation.

Antonio Indjai, the head of the West African nation's armed forces, conspired to sell surface-to-air missiles and store and transport cocaine for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla group, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement Thursday.

Indjai "conspired to use his power and authority to be a middleman and his country to be a way-station for people he believed to be terrorists and narco-traffickers so they could store, and ultimately transport, narcotics to the United States, and procure surface-to-air missiles and other military-grade hardware to be used against United States troops," Bharara said. "As with so many allegedly corrupt officials, he sold himself and use of his country for a price."

He faces conspiracy charges for alleged plans to engage in narco-terrorsim, distribute cocaine and transfer anti-aircraft missiles.

Authorities said the charges stem from a sting by confidential sources of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The West African nation's government did not immediately comment Thursday.

The charges against Indjai come nearly two weeks after the former head of the country's navy appeared in a New York court, accused of being a drug kingpin involved in smuggling cocaine from Latin American paramilitaries into the United States.

Rear Adm. Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, once head of Guinea-Bissau's navy, was seized on a boat on the Atlantic Ocean by officials from the U.S. DEA.

Four other Guinea-Bissau citizens were also detained and extradited to the United States.

Guinea-Bissau, a small coastal nation of about 1.6 million people sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea, has been wracked by successive coups and attempted coups since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974.

The current transitional government took over after the last military-backed coup in April 2012.

A U.S. Justice Department report in 2011 highlighted West Africa's growing role in the international drug trade and put Guinea-Bissau at the center of that illegal activity.

"Due to its lack of law enforcement capabilities, its susceptibility to corruption, its porous borders, and its strategic location, Guinea-Bissau remains a significant hub of narcotics trafficking on the verge of developing into a narco-state," the report said.

"While many officials within the Government of Guinea-Bissau recognize the extent of the drug problem and express a willingness to address it, a crippling lack of resources and capacity remains a hindrance to real progress in combating drug trafficking."

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark and Umaro Djau contributed to this report.

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