Suspected US drug smuggler arrested in Thailand

BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand arrested an American man and five other suspects wanted by the U.S. for allegedly running an international drug trafficking network that spanned Asia and the United States, authorities said Thursday.

Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, and his alleged accomplices were arrested Wednesday on the resort island of Phuket as part of a sting operation launched at the request of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said Thai deputy police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang.

He called Hunter a “leading drug lord” wanted for drug smuggling, trafficking and other international crimes, which he did not specify.

“This group was considered to be a big network that spanned many countries,” including Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, Somyot said.

All six suspects — including two Brits, a Slovak, a Filipino and a Taiwanese — have been named on a U.S. arrest warrant and were expected to be deported to New York, where the warrant was issued, Somyot said. He did not give a time frame for the transfer.

Hunter served in the U.S. Navy, and his alleged accomplices were also believed to have had military training, police said.

“All these people were trained to kill,” Somyot told reporters at a police airport in Bangkok, where the suspects were flown Thursday from Phuket.

He said the DEA contacted Thai authorities several months ago to say that Hunter was believed to be hiding in Phuket. Hunter regularly traveled around the region and last entered Thailand from the Philippines on Sept. 6, Somyot said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Walter Braunohler in Bangkok said he could not immediately comment on the case and referred questions to Washington.

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