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'Merchant of Death' convicted in NYC court

Courtroom file sketch of former Soviet military officer

Courtroom file sketch of former Soviet military officer Viktor Bout. (Jan. 21, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

The infamous onetime Russian arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for his willingness to supply weapons for cash in conflicts around the globe was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans Wednesday.

Viktor Bout, 44, a former Soviet military officer who once controlled a fleet of cargo planes to ferry arms that fueled wars in Africa and elsewhere, faces up to life in prison after being fooled in a sting operation into agreeing to sell missiles to Colombian guerrillas to shoot down American helicopters.

The defendant showed no emotion when the jury's forewoman answered "Guilty" to each of four conspiracy counts in federal court in Manhattan.

"He's resolute," defense lawyer Kenneth Kaplan said of Bout after the verdict. "He's a strong man. He accepts the verdict and is hopeful."

Bout, whose exploits inspired the movie "Lord of War," had already been hit with UN sanctions that restricted his weapons dealing when he was targeted by the United States in 2008.

According to testimony, undercover Drug Enforcement Administration operatives posing as members of the FARC narco-terror group lured Bout into a weapons deal, secretly recording him as he said that Americans were a common "enemy."

Bout was arrested in Thailand in March 2008. With strong support from the Russian government -- which, some experts say, may fear that Bout will spill secrets of official connivance in his weapons dealing -- Bout resisted extradition for two years before he was transferred to the U.S. last year.

In pretrial motions, he argued the United States targeted him illegally before he had committed a crime. At trial, he contended he was pretending to discuss a missile deal in hopes that he could sell two cargo planes, but never agreed to a weapons sale.

Shira Scheindlin set sentencing for Feb. 8.

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