February 26, 2015 / 11:20 PM / in 2 years

Suspected European arms traffickers extradited from Montenegro to U.S.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three suspected arms traffickers from Europe pleaded not guilty on Thursday to U.S. charges that they conspired to sell military-grade weapons for use against Americans in Colombia.

Cristian Vintila and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, both from Romania, and Massimo Romagnoli of Greece entered the pleas in New York federal court a day after being extradited from Montenegro, where they had been arrested in December.

The men were charged in an indictment with conspiracy to kill U.S. officers and employees, and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to the Colombian rebel group FARC.

Prosecutors said the men tried to sell anti-aircraft weapons and firearms to confidential sources working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, under the mistaken belief that those sources were affiliated with FARC.

The U.S. government has since 1997 designated FARC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Vintila, 44, Romagnoli, 43, and Georgescu, 42, have been in detention since they arrived on Wednesday in White Plains, New York, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Lee Surratt said at a Thursday court hearing.

Albert Dayan, Georgescu's lawyer, at the hearing said the charges showed "this is not a classic terrorism case" and that his client is not a threat.

Defense lawyers declined to comment after the hearing.

The FARC grew out of a 1960s peasant movement demanding land reform. It has been fighting successive Colombian governments ever since in a conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people.

The Colombian government began peace talks in Cuba in late 2012, and FARC declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in December.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Ken Wills

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