BANGKOK - An American described as a "leading drug lord" with a network spanning Asia and the United States was sent back to the U.S. on a government-chartered plane following his arrest in Thailand, authorities said Friday.
Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were sent on the flight to escort Joseph Manuel Hunter, 48, and five other suspects arrested during a sting operation on the resort island of Phuket, said Thai deputy police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang.
The flight was bound for New York where an arrest warrant has been issued for the six men, he said.
Hunter and his suspected accomplices — identified as two Brits, a Slovak, a Filipino and a Taiwanese — were arrested Wednesday during a sting operation launched at the request of the DEA following a lengthy investigation into the suspected drug gang, police said.
"He is a leading drug lord" wanted for drug smuggling, trafficking and other international crimes, Somyot said.
"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.
According to Thai police, Hunter served in the U.S. Navy, and his alleged accomplices were also believed to have had military training.
"All these people were trained to kill," Somyot told reporters Thursday at a police airport in Bangkok after the handcuffed suspects were flown in from Phuket.
He said the DEA contacted Thai authorities several months ago to say that Hunter was believed to be hiding in Phuket, where he had rented a house. Hunter regularly travelled 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.