The seizure of a cocaine-laden freighter 11/2 years ago led to the indictment of 25 people on Friday aimed at breaking up a Colombia-based smuggling operation that rivals the nation's top drug cartels.

The cocaine ring, headed by Julio Cesar Nassar David of Barranquilla, shipped 10 tons of cocaine into the United States in 1989 alone, said Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman James Shedd."Nassar is a huge, huge doper. He's at the same level as the Medellin and Cali cartels, but he's his own man," Shedd said. The DEA is seeking the extradition of Nassar and two of his top aides from Colombia, Shedd said.

The three are among 25 people named in an indictment unsealed Friday that is aimed at three U.S.-based groups that received and distributed Nassar's cocaine, said Shedd.

The case grew out of the Sept. 10, 1989, seizure of the Danish freighter Nerma, which was carrying about 11/2 tons of cocaine, in the Bahamas. Ten people were eventually convicted of trafficking in that case, and the seizure touched off a broad investigation of Nassar's drug shipments, Shedd said.

Most of Nassar's cocaine was smuggled into the country aboard freighters, but he also used airplanes on occasion, the DEA spokesman said.

Although Nassar is well-known in Barranquilla, agents have been unable to get Colombian authorities to move against him, said a federal law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Colombian authorities say they were unable to track him down.

"Saying you can't find Nassar in Barranquilla is like saying you can't find Donald Trump in New York," the source said.

Nassar, a member of Barranquilla's Palestinian community, allegedly began his career smuggling goods into Colombia 20 years ago, then expanded into marijuana smuggling and finally cocaine trafficking. Most of his operation in Colombia is run by his family, said Shedd.