A Russian man reputed to be one of the world's most prolific arms dealers has been extradited to the United States, more than two years after his arrest.
Police and airport officials said Viktor Bout was flown out of Bangkok on a special U.S. plane shortly after the Thai cabinet agreed with an earlier court decision to send Bout to the United States.
The Associated Press news agency quoted an unidentified law enforcement officer in New York as saying Bout was expected to arrive there at around 9 p.m. on November 16.
Today's move follows months of legal battle in a case that led to a diplomatic tussle between Moscow and Washington.
Russia has reacted angrily, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telling a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, that Bout's extradition was the result of "unprecedented political pressure on Thailand's legal procedure and the Thai government."
Lavrov added, "This whole affair is an example of glaring injustice and we, as a state, will continue to provide all the necessary assistance to Viktor Bout as a Russian citizen."
The Russian Embassy earlier expressed surprise at the Thai decision, with the Interfax news agency quoting official Andrei Dvornikov as saying, "All of this was done very quickly, even urgently and -- it seems -- secretly."
Bout now faces trial in the United States for terrorism-related charges.
The 43-year-old former Soviet Air Force officer dubbed the "Merchant of Death" has allegedly supplied weapons that fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East, and Africa.
According to televised remarks on Russian television, Bout's wife, Alla, said the Thai decision had "no legal basis whatsoever," adding, "This is an unequivocally political decision, lobbied by the U.S. government."
Bout's lawyer said he would file a complaint with the government on November 17.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok confirmed Bout's extradition but declined to elaborate on the case.
In August, a Thai court ordered Bout's extradition within three months, overturning a lower court's ruling. But the extradition was delayed by extra charges of money-laundering and fraud submitted by U.S. prosecutors.
A Thai court threw out the charges in October, clearing the way for extradition.
Bout has been imprisoned since his arrest at a Bangkok luxury hotel in March 2008. He was caught in a sting operation involving U.S. agents who posed as arms buyers for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which Washington classifies as a terrorist organization.
Bout was indicted in the United States on terrorism-related charges that include conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to FARC, including surface-to-air missiles, guns, helicopters, and airplanes outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles. He was also charged with conspiring to kill Americans and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Bout could face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
The head of an air-transport empire, Bout has long evaded United Nations and U.S. sanctions aimed at blocking his financial activities and restricting his travel. His clients allegedly included Liberia's Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and both sides of the civil war in Angola.
Bout has denied any involvement in illicit activities, claiming he ran a legitimate business.
with agency reports