Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Opens Arms Trader Probe

Russia on Thursday joined the world community's hunt for Russian national Viktor Bout, suspected of suppling al-Qaida and the Taliban with massive arms shipments until just days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Interior Ministry said Thursday that it had opened an investigation on the basis of Western media reports that the former Soviet air force officer might have been al-Qaida's chief gunrunner.

Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Bobrovsky ordered a detailed probe, Interfax quoted ministry spokesman Yury Shuvalov as saying. Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Bout last week.

The ministry declined to provide more information prior to the close of the investigation.

One Western report that could have spurred Russia's zeal after years of denial appeared last week in The Sunday Times.

The report said Britain's MI6 intelligence service collected the damning evidence against Bout in a two-year campaign to monitor his activities. The paper quotes a Whitehall official as saying that the case against him is persuasive.

The Times reported British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain accusing Bout of illicitly supplying guns from Eastern Europe to rebel groups in conflict zones such as Angola and Sierra Leone in return for contraband diamonds and calling him "a merchant of death."

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that Air Cess, one of Bout's air cargo firms based in the United Arab Emirates, was hired by the Taliban in 1996 to act as a cargo handler and supplier for Afghanistan's national air carrier, Ariana, to ship arms.

Hain is quoted as saying Bout continued to run weapons to Osama bin Laden long after the United Nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan in January 2001.

Agence France Presse reported that Air Cess had chartered planes owned by the Aerostan air transport firm registered in Kazan, Tatarstan.

Belgian investigators have spent three years attempting to bring Bout to justice. They have arrested a Bout associate, Kenyan businessman Sanjivan Ruprah, on charges of criminal association and holding a false passport, The Associated Press reported.

The deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Konstantin Makienko, said there were a large number of former Soviet intelligence and army officers involved in gray schemes selling arms from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine -- mainly spare parts and ammunition.

Independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said Bout was a minor player in the arms trade. The main organizers are in Bulgaria and Romania, and Ukraine and Belarus provide the weapons.