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New York (AFP) - Five Americans have been charged in connection with a plot to sell 153 guns and smuggle them into New York in carry-on bags on 17 commercial flights, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The airline security breach put hundreds of travelers at risk and was allegedly aided by a Delta Airlines agent in Atlanta, who carried the weapons past security checks, officials said.
Former Delta employee Mark Henry, 45, carried bags full of guns and ammunition on 17 flights from Atlanta to New York from May to December, said the Brooklyn district attorney's office.
He and three other defendants have been charged in a 591-count indictment in Brooklyn that includes first-degree criminal possession of a weapon, which is punishable by up to 25 years.
A fifth man, Delta ramp agent Eugene Harvey, 31, was arrested in Georgia and arraigned in court on Monday, they added.
Chief culprit Henry was denied bail for his alleged role in the conspiracy to sell assault weapons, 9mm handguns and Glock pistols to an undercover NYPD detective in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors say Henry bought 10-20 guns at a time, mostly through a website, picked them up from sellers in Georgia and then flew to New York with the guns stashed in his luggage.
He allegedly boarded the two-hour flights at nominal cost by using his mother's privileges as a retired Delta employee.
Henry was himself a former Delta employee from 2007 to 2010.
Delta said Tuesday that it was cooperating with the investigation.
"We take seriously any activity that fails to uphold our strict commitment to the safety and security of our customers and employees," it said.
District attorney Ken Thompson warned the guns could have been used to shoot and kill residents and police officers in Brooklyn.
"In this age of terrorism, it is simply unthinkable that anyone would breach the security of our nation's airports to smuggle guns and ammunition, including assault weapons, on commercial airliners and jeopardize countless lives all to make money," said Thompson.
Two police officers were shot dead in broad daylight in Brooklyn on Saturday by a disturbed 28-year-old whom officers said had a clear anti-police bias and who earlier shot his ex-girlfriend.