Russia frees Israeli mercenary wanted by Colombia: reports

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Russia has released Israeli mercenary Yair Klein, whose extradition was sought by Colombia, and he is on his way to Israel, Interfax news agency said Friday, quoting a security source.

"Klein has been freed and he is currently en route to Israel," said the source, without providing any further details.

Israeli television Channel 2 also reported the release and showed video of a smiling Klein leaving his prison in Moscow before heading to the airport and his flight back home.

According to the TV report, he said the first thing he wanted to do is see his family and he also criticised Israel for not obtaining his release sooner.

Klien was sentenced in absentia to 10 years and eight months in jail by a Colombian court in 2001 for training paramilitaries and the strongmen of Medellin drug cartels in military and terrorist techniques in the 1990s.

Klein, a former colonel in Israel's parachute infantry, was arrested in Moscow in 2007 under an Interpol warrant where he went for a holiday and for business.

He had previously been detained for 16 months in the west African country Sierra Leone, accused of selling arms, training Liberian rebels and trafficking diamonds.

A Russian court approved the extradition request in 2008, but it was the subject of an emergency ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

In a full ruling in April 2009, the court said Klein faced a serious risk of mistreatment if he was detained in Colombia, and it upheld that decision in a subsequent ruling last week.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos strongly protested against last week's decision.

Klein is accused of training Colombian militias to protect landowners, and these groups over time developed into armed gangs specialising in drug trafficking.

Units trained by Klein are accused of killing 3,000 left-wing guerillas and four candidates in the run-up to Colombia's 1990 presidential election.

Klein worked for Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, known as "The Mexican", until his death in 1999, and then he was employed by notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Some voices in European intelligence claimed that he maintained links with Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

Klein's release comes in the same week as the extradition to the US of suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been held in Bangkok since 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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