Russia frees Israeli mercenary wanted by Colombia

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

A Colombian court sentenced Klien in absentia to 10 years and eight months prison in 2001 for training paramilitaries and Medellin drug cartel enforcers in military and terrorist techniques.

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.

In Bogota, reaction was swift and angry on Friday.

"We are not going to stand around with our arms crossed," Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas told reporters.

Vargas said that Colombia would likely call on Russia or Israel to recognize the Colombian court ruling and jail Klein.

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

Drug kingpin Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, known as "The Mexican," allegedly hired Klein in the late 1980s to train Colombian militias to protect landowners. Those groups over time branched out into right-wing paramilitary activities and drug trafficking.

When Rodriguez Gacha died in 1999 notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar allegedly hired Klein.

Colombian officials also say that Klein worked for the founders of the leading right-wing paramilitary group, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

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

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

© 2010 AFP

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