The U.S. embassy in Prague has criticized a decision by the Czech Republic's justice minister not to extradite a Lebanese man to the United States to face weapons smuggling charges.
Prague's Municipal Court on February 4 ordered the release of Ali Taan Fayad after Justice Minister Robert Pelikan refused to allow Fayad's extradition.
Fayad, who also is known as Ali Amin, is wanted in the United States along with two citizens of Ivory Coast who allegedly tried to sell weapons to undercover U.S. law enforcement agents.
A U.S. embassy statement on February 4 said 'We are dismayed by the Czech government's decision” to release Fayad and Ivorian Khaled El Merebi.
The Czech government still has to decide about the fate of the other Ivorian suspect.
Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said five Czech citizens who went missing in Lebanon in July were released by their captors in exchange for a guarantee that Fayad would not be extradited.
But Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek later denied that there was an exchange deal.
The five Czech citizens were released from captivity in Lebanon and put on a Czech Air Force jet that arrived in Prague on February 4.
The affair, as complicated and dramatic as a paperback thriller, drew in not only on Czech, Lebanese, and U.S. interests, but also deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and, reportedly, the Colombian guerilla group FARC.
Stropnicky told reporters the five Czech citizens were returning from Lebanon "on condition that Fayad will not be extradited to the United States. The cases are linked."
That prompted a blunt statement from the U.S. Embassy in Prague, which noted that Fayad and Merebi had both been charged in U.S. federal court.
It said: "There is no justification for the release of these dangerous individuals, which deals a blow to the cooperative relationship of our two countries’ law enforcement agencies, and which will only encourage criminal gangs and terrorists around the world."
In Washington, the Justice Department deferred questions to the State Department, and did not respond to requests to release the indictments against Fayad and Merabi.
The State Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Fayad, a Lebanese who holds a Ukrainian passport, was wanted by U.S. authorities for conducting smuggling operations across Europe and in Colombia, according to Czech press reports that cite unnamed security officials.
Washington reportedly accused Fayad and the two Ivorian suspects of planning to exchange Ukrainian weapons for cocaine from FARC.
Fayad reportedly also served as a manager in Ukraine's state-controlled arms export company Ukrspecexport and prior to that as an advisor to Yanukovych, who was ousted as president of Ukraine in early 2014 when months of protests culminated in violent clashes in Kyiv.
Czech authorities had looked set to extradite Fayad and his two associates to the United States.
But in July, the five Czech citizens -- including a lawyer from Fayad's defense team -- went missing while visiting Lebanon.
Lebanese media reported that the group was picked up in Beirut by a van driven by Fayad's half-brother, and that the van was later found abandoned near the Syrian border with no trace of its occupants.
The Czech daily MF Dnes quoted unidentified officials as saying that the lawyer, Jan Svarc, was the intermediary for an offer by Lebanese intelligence officers to provide information about another Czech national who went missing in Libya last year.
The Czech civil intelligence branch reportedly refused the offer, but a military affairs journalist who is believed to be close to the military intelligence branch accompanied Svarc to Beirut along with two reporters from Czech regional TV stations and an interpreter.
That has led to suggestions that Fayad's supporters somehow orchestrated a hostage situation to pressure Prague.
Fayad's defense team has said Svarc's trip to Beirut was not unusual and that Svarc had visited Lebanon repeatedly to secure documents for Fayad's defense.
As recently as February 3, officials in Prague tried to dispel any notion that a hostage exchange might be under negotiation.
"We don't make deals with terrorists. That is our long-term position,” Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said.