«I know that I am a living dead, but my head remains high and I only care about my family and my country. I don't think about who I was, just keep fighting until the last breath. Nothing scares me anymore, ”says Monzer Al Kassar. «I have faith and hope in God, who knows what is best for me, and not in the hands of those men of the devil who locked me here. I always think positive, ”he adds. I ask him if at any time he has not been so optimistic. If on occasion he could have weakness and despair. If you thought or have thought about killing yourself. Answer no. «My life is in the hands of God. Everyone has their final day and nobody can change it except God. Only cowards take their own lives with their own hands . And I am not one of them ».
Al Kassar, 74, has spent the last 11 years locked in the United States in four different maximum security prisons since 2008 in 2008 he was extradited and sentenced for terrorism to a penalty of 30 years. He is serving a sentence today at Marion Prison in Illinois. Al Kassar, a Syrian citizen based in Marbella since the early 1980s, is one of the most mysterious characters in that Marbella of the jet set and ostentation. He was one of the great arms traffickers of that time and supposed drug trafficker , although he still does not consider himself so because his business always had, he says, legal papers behind. A merchant of light and heavy armament whose shipments fueled wars around the world capable of skipping the international embargoes of the UN in countries such as Croatia or Somalia. But also a broker. One of those players needed in the arms business as intermediate links in the chain, connecting buyers and sellers and cutting off the transmission. The men that some governments turn to to do undercover operations . Al Kassar made them for more than two decades as a broker in Spain. Among many other operations, he sold weapons for the Spanish Government in Angola and worked as an intermediary for the Basque Astra gun company.
After his arrest, Al Kassar went from living in Mifadil, his Renaissance mabellí mansion, a dozen rooms and a clover-shaped pool, to do it in a cell with a concrete cot, toilet, sink and a cork in which he hangs the photos of his family and the portraits of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, whose regime is a staunch defender, of Yasser Arafat and his friend Abu Abbas, a terrorist for the Palestinian cause, who died in a United States jail in Iraq in 2004.
Al Kassar has gone from having Wally, his Lebanese cook, to buy cumin and other spices from the jail's product catalog to tune his food and give it an Arab touch. And, above all, it has gone from Rolls-Royce, luxury and high society in Marbella, to resort even to a crowdfunding campaign on the internet to pay for a legal defense that already has little margin.
"I seek support, both financial assistance and moral support, for the cause, to allow the truth to reign over fiction," he said in the message, translated into several languages, with which he presented his petition on the Go Fund Me website, which was closed by the platform a few days after opening. If he does not radically change his situation or lives beyond the age of 90, he will die locked in the United States, where since he was imprisoned he has not seen his family. He only maintains contact with his children, who are still living in Marbella. "I'm alone," he confesses.
«In these prisons there is no friendship. Everything is a game of interests and needs and in that balance relationships are established. So you should never feel comfortable or close to anyone. Prison is the largest university in the world, ”he says. Before being transferred to Marion, Al Kassar was held in Terre Haute, Indiana, which his tenants call the "northern Guantanamo." An almost clandestine prison of post-11-America America in which half a hundred prisoners, mostly Muslims, live monitored and recorded day and night. There, most of his companions were jihadists and members of organizations like Al Qaeda. «Our religion is not that. But I knew how to deal with them, especially with young people, in a kind and logical way. I've never had any problem with them, ”says Al Kassar. His, although he was also convicted of terrorism, was a different profile from those of those prisoners.
"I MADE MY MONEY WITH THE WEAPONS BUSINESS"
«If you look at the things that my enemies have accused me of, Israel above all, to defame me with their propaganda and their influence in the media, I would go crazy ... The only thing they have not accused me of is to manufacture the nuclear bomb of Hiroshima, ”he says today from prison. For the past five years I have been in permanent contact with him. «I made my money with the arms business and never hid it. But my imprisonment is a fabricated case, the script of a Hollywood movie that others write for me, ”he says.
The agents of the US DEA, the agency that investigates arms and drug trafficking , call it the "peacock." Because he always exhibited his plumage. Because he strutted. They say it was untouchable. And that had been the case for decades. Also that he was arrogant. And that was his weakness. They tell him that he was the silent partner of death and terror. That he had created an empire. And that like all great criminals had two weaknesses: money and women. And in this case it was money that made him fall.
On Thursday, June 7, 2007, Al Kassar was arrested at the Barajas airport in Madrid. The American DEA set him up. A secret mission that was not even reported to the Spanish police. Two undercover confidants pretended to be arms buyers for the Government of Nicaragua and in the middle of the operation they confessed that the armament would actually be for the FARC, in Colombia, to threaten the interests of the United States there. Al Kassar continued with the operation and the DEA thus managed, in the trafficker's own house, in his Mifadil palace, the necessary evidence to obtain an arrest warrant. A year later and after excessive pressure from the US Government to the Spanish, Spain extradited Al Kassar to the United States.
Mifadil's mansion was a bunker for the DEA. The most private, iron and safe hiding place of an international criminal. That enclosure that his confidants crossed with cameras and hidden microphones, guarded by the Syrian security team. That white fence that, if they had discovered them, they would never have gone through the exit. They would have killed them immediately. This is what the DEA agents who carried out the Legacy operation tell it, as they baptized their mission.
Those who attended Mifadil regularly at that time know that doing so was exhausting. That the doorbell had stopped working and had not yet been repaired and that it was necessary to stay there, pounding the iron gate, under the Mediterranean heat, until there was luck and someone from the family or domestic service went out into the garden and listened to the hits. They also say that the house could be accessed by jumping the fence from the back. And that there, since the 90s, there had been no bodyguards again. That the only staff that was there were the women who cleaned, Wally, that cook who made the stews that Al Kassar dreams of as he swallows the ranch with cumin, the gardener and the personal assistant he had at that time.
That was not the first time Al Kassar appeared on the DEA radar. He already knew. A few months before one of his employees had sneaked out that he had been tried from the agency to get information. "Ask them more, tell them anything and we share the money," Joker had replied.
The day after that arrest in Barajas, while flying to Marbella in a plane chartered by the Spanish police to go to the Mifadil registry , Al Kassar tells the agents that his detention is a revenge. «They tried to sign me and I never wanted to work for the DEA. With other agencies yes, but with the DEA never », he assures them.
It would not have been the first time the United States wanted to sign it . In the 80s Monzer Al Kassar was already one of the great traffickers of that time. But that was not his only face. He had also become an ally of the Spanish Police and, through this, of the Government. To the point that he had helped free Spaniards first and then French kidnapped in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. A collaboration whereby the Spanish Government, as Rafael Vera, former Secretary of State for Security reveals during the socialist governments and one of the interlocutors with the French Ministry of Interior in those years, "scored somewhat." That would mark, in fact, a before and after in the relations between both countries in the fight against ETA. Thereafter, as Vera says, France delivered dozens of ETA members and the collaboration between the two countries against the terrorist band really intensified.
YOUR CONNECTION WITH THE CIA ... AND WITH VILLAREJO
Al Kassar's fame then crosses borders. In the late 80's the CIA became obsessed with the Syrian. Spain proposed a pact to the United States. If Al Kassar accepted, they announced, he could work for both. And if he refused to do so directly, he could collaborate with them through Spain. But the CIA rejected it. They wanted Al Kassar exclusively.
«The United States is fundamental to the West. But I think he made a terrible mistake with a person who had only collaborated with Western intelligence services. Al Kassar was a man of honor who always kept his word, ”José Manuel Villarejo , the curator also told me today in prison, in one of the meetings I had with him. Villarejo was one of Al Kassar's contacts with the Police. Both are friends since they met in that Marbella in which Al Kassar settled in the early 80's and in which the police had sources and confidants. More than that, "brothers," as they were called.
After his arrest in 2007, Villarejo struggled for months to help Al Kassar. He tried to press and pull all the threads that could lead to some path that was not dead. He even wanted to go to testify in the United States. But recommendations came to him not to do it. The DEA could not bear to see him trying to intercede for him and thus they transmitted it to his contacts in the Police. They came to threaten to stop him and accuse him of belonging to the Al Kassar organization. If Villarejo traveled to New York to testify, he could end up in an American cell. It worked. The cop finally did not travel to Manhattan. Today, a decade later, paradoxically, it is Al Kassar who wants to testify in favor of Villarejo, who wants to become his biggest defender out of jail. This has been offered, in fact, to the controversial former inspector's lawyer. If you need it, he has told you, he will testify and tell all the secret missions he knows in which the former commissioner worked for Spain to publicly show "his profile as a statesman."
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